When Is It Too Late To Ask For An Epidural? Here's What An Expert Has To Say

Epidurals are utilized by approximately 70-75% of women during labor, reports Yale Medicine. "An epidural is a type of anesthesia where local anesthetics are injected around the spinal cord to provide pain relief during childbirth," says Dr. Anisha Farishta, an OB/GYN affiliated with Memorial Hermann, in an exclusive interview with Health Digest. "The decision to have an epidural is a personal one, and there are several factors to consider," she states.

"Generally, epidurals are administered when a woman's cervix is 4-5 cm dilated, although they can be done earlier or later depending on the mother's individual needs and pain tolerance," Dr. Farishta explains. "The optimal time to request an epidural is generally when a patient is having painful, regular contractions and is transitioning into active labor," she says. "However, the availability of an epidural and the timing of administration can vary depending on the hospital, the anesthesiologist, and the individual circumstances of the mother and baby."

Discuss pain-relief alternatives

Dr. Farishta goes on to tell Health Digest that there are some circumstances under which administering an epidural may be more difficult. "Epidurals can usually be administered as long as the patient is able to stay still long enough for it to be placed, which usually takes 5-15 minutes," she explains. "This is often not possible when the patient is already 10 cm and the baby's head is crowning."

"If a mother is unable to obtain an epidural, there are ways to mentally prepare for the delivery of their baby," says Dr. Farishta. "It's important to create a supportive, calming environment and communicate preferences and goals for their labor experience," she states. Dr. Farishta also outlines alternate methods of pain relief that a patient can implement during the birthing process. "One can also utilize natural pain management techniques such as breathing exercises, massage, meditation, aromatherapy, and visualization," she says. "Alternative pushing positions can also help with pain management as can other medical options including nitrous oxide and IV pain medications." The key, she reiterates, is clear communication. "Discussing these options ahead of time can help the mother feel more prepared and empowered during her labor experience."