The Truth About Epidurals

Carol Gray Tells the Truth About EpiduralsFirst a word or two about birth physiology: Labor is almost universally painful for mothers and often painful for babies. One of the ways we cope with pain is to produce beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is an opiate-like brain chemical – the same one responsible for the so-called runner’s high. It reduces pain.

In a typical labor the pain increases over time. As the pain increases the production of beta-endorphin also increases. Mothers and babies both produce beta-endorphin. The beta-endorphin produced by the mother passes to the baby through the placenta.

At the moment of birth the pain of labor suddenly and dramatically decreases for the mother. Mothers and babies are flooded with endorphins that, with little to no pain, cause euphoria.

We know that endorphins create a state of dependence. After a medically undisturbed birth the mom and baby will repeatedly seek to recreate that initial high of birth euphoria with close skin to skin contact. We know that babies need this contact to survive and develop normally.

Sometimes babies are hurt in the birth process. It’s obvious when they come out with swelling, bruises or broken bones. Sometimes they appear frightened or shocked. In that moment they are supposed to rely on an extra boost of endorphins from their mothers.

The Truth: Mothers who have epidurals experience little to no pain in their labors. If mothers experience little to no pain, they produce little to no beta-endorphin. When mothers produce little to no beta-endorphin, their babies have more painful births. This pain could be extreme. This pain can interfere with bonding. We have no idea what the lifetime effects of this could be.

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