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Epidural anesthesia is the single most effective form of pain relief in labor. Unless you are having a c-section, having an epidural or not is simply a personal choice. Many mothers wonder, before they decide to get an epidural, what the risks are as well as the benefits of epidural anesthesia. Like any other form of anesthesia, epidurals do have the potential for side effects. Let's take a look at what an epidural is, and what the risks are.

We should first note that there is in fact no such thing as "the epidural", since the exact amount of drugs and their combination varies depending on who your anesthesiologist is. One part of epidural anesthesia is made up of local anesthetic medications like bupivacaine, chloroprocaine, and lidocaine. The other part consists of opioids or narcotics such as fentanyl and Sufentanil, and epinephrine, fentanyl, morphine, and clonidine. So, what are the risks?

Risks for baby

Fetal distress is one of the main risks of epidural anesthesia. This happens when a baby's heartbeat goes down to dangerously low levels, and may be the direct result of the low blood pressure some mothers experience following the placement of an epidural. Some sources say that epidurals can lead to fetal malpositioning, and babies born to mothers who had an epidural have higher instances of shoulder dystocia, and vacuum or forceps delivery. Epidurals may lead to breastfeeding problems.

Risks for mothers

Low blood pressure is one of the most common side effects of epidural anesthesia, affecting as many as one third of all women who choose to have an epidural. Hypotension negatively affects the volume of blood one can pump through the body, including blood supply to the placenta. Seizures can occur following an epidural. Anaphylactic shock is another risk of epidural anesthesia. Epidurals increase the risk you will have a c-section due to fetal distress or a stalled labor (they can sometimes be a little too effective and stop contractions). Breathing difficulties can occur, especially in women who suffer from asthma. Some women end up with nerve damage where the epidural was inserted.

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