Reasons Women Want an Epidural During Childbirth

woman in labor with nurse

Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Epidural anesthesia is the most common form of pain relief used in labor and birth today. It is also the most effective at removing the pain during birth. It works so well it can even be used for cesarean birth, allowing the mother to be awake and alert during the birth of her baby, even in the event of surgery.

There are a growing number of women who are opting out of using epidurals and choosing to go through labor without them. This means that many women may not understand why others choose to use an epidural. Here are some of the most common reasons why moms actively chose an epidural for their childbirth experience.

Labor Hurts and I Don't Want to Feel It

Easing pain from contractions usually tops the list when it comes to reasons for choosing an epidural. Women understand that labor is going to hurt, but many choose to minimize the pain of labor and an epidural is good option for that.

I’m Afraid of Labor

Not knowing what labor will bring is often frightening. Having an epidural at least provides some predictability to the process. An epidural can help you feel more in control of what is happening because your pain is managed. That means you are not using all of your concentration to get through contractions.

I Want to Enjoy My Labor

For some women, enjoying labor means overcoming the challenge of working through the pain of their contractions. But if that's not for you, an epidural can help minimize, or often eliminate, the pain of labor so your body can do the work while you do something else.

Some moms do report feeling a bit bored, because typically labor is not a fast process. But they can live with that and make plans to fill the hours with various activities, including visiting with family and friends.

I Don't Want to Associate My Baby With Pain

Some people are concerned that if they experience pain in labor that they will transfer those thoughts to the baby. Think the classic: “You did this to me!” or “When I was in labor with you …” The epidural can help these moms separate that for themselves.

I Did It Before and It Worked Well for Me

Women who have been through labor before and have had an epidural typically have less fear about having one again. This is particularly true if you had a positive experience with a previous epidural. You’ll probably be willing to try the same thing again now that you have a proven track record.

I’m Having a C-Section

If you know you’re having a cesarean birth, an epidural is a great choice for pain relief. Though your practitioner may recommend a spinal or even a combined spinal epidural (CSE), the basics are the same—you are awake and able to participate in the birth of your child.

I Don't Know What Else to Do

Some moms felt like they didn’t really have any other options. Maybe they had considered IV medications but decided against them, or their doctor said they were not appropriate.

Since they didn’t feel like natural childbirth was the answer, that left the epidural as the default for pain management. Other moms say that this is all that was offered at their place of birth. And some mothers see how their labor goes and even though they had previously considered unmedicated birth, decide during labor to get an epidural.

My Doctor Recommends It

Some women are going on the recommendation of their doctor or midwife. Being told that it works well and that their other patients are happy with the outcome is enough for many moms to jump on board.

My Friends Recommended It

For some women, a recommendation from a friend trumps all, even the recommendation of the practitioner. You can ask your friends all the nitty-gritty details about what works and what doesn’t. You can ask about how it’s done and what it feels like in a way that you can’t necessarily do with your practitioner.

No matter why a mother has chosen to use an epidural, there are things that can be done before labor to ensure that she has a positive experience. This can include a childbirth class (yes, even with an epidural planned!), or use of a doula. It can help to have specific conversations with other support people, so they know they are still needed and can be useful, even when an epidural is in place. This will help make a pleasant and positive birth experience.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.