Did you know that in a study of 750 women wanting epidural analgesia, the median cervical dilation when women asked for an epidural was 2 centimeters? This tells doctors, nurses and partners what laboring women have said for decades - that early labor can be quite painful! Now it would be great if a woman could get an epidural at 2 centimeters if she wanted one but the reality is that most hospitals will not admit a woman until she is at least 4 centimeters dilated.
But if labor can be intense enough to cause a woman to desire an epidural at 2 centimeters and most hospitals don’t admitted women until they reach 4....what are you to do?
That is why it is imperative you learn some basic comfort measures even if you go into your labor and birth wanting an epidural. Because what if you are stuck at 2 centimeters for hours and the hospital won’t admit you because you aren’t dilated “enough”? What if you feel the contractions all in your back (and trust me, that really hurts!), yet you’re “only” 3 centimeters dilated and the hospital won’t take you? Unfortunately, these things happen all the time.
So maybe bouncing on a birth ball or moaning in a warm bath isn’t what you want for your birth. That’s ok. But knowing that rocking on a birth ball or taking a warm bath can sometimes help ease discomfort in early labor just could provide you with some relief if you progress slowly through early labor.
No one is saying you shouldn’t have an epidural if you want one, but don’t let that be your one and only pain relief plan. You should prepare for a variety of scenarios, even if you know exactly how you would like your birth to play out. Because what if you have a long, painful early labor at home? Or imagine another scenario: the anesthesiologist is backed up and has 5 patients before you? Shouldn’t you know how to help yourself - at least a little bit - while you wait for your epidural? Even worse, while this scenario is highly unlikely, what if you are one of the few people for whom epidural anesthesia does not work well?
In the end, it’s important that you know what you want for your birth as far as pain relief goes. If that means an epidural, great. Equally as important, however, is having basic knowledge of your other options. Just like women who desire an unmedicated birth should educate themselves about epidurals and cesarean sections, you should know a few ways to naturally ease labor pain if and when the occasion arises. Because it's always good to have a backup plan.