Three years ago expectant twin-mom, Leah Casuto, woke early in the morning of her scheduled C-section. When she glanced out the window to check the weather, she was shocked to see there had been a snowstorm. Mounds of white heaped over streets and lawns, cloaking the neighborhood.
Her husband, Scott, managed through sheer force of will to get her to Bethesda Oak Hospital in Cincinnati, on time. Unfortunately, her obstetrician was snowed in. Hours drifted by. Leah was no longer on Terbutaline, the drug preventing her from going into labor. She hadn’t expected to need it. So while Leah waited for her obstetrician, labor contractions started.
At first, she ignored them. She had experienced contractions on and off for months. But the contractions grew stronger until it was apparent she was in full-blown labor. Anxiously, she talked the situation over with her nurse, since there were still no obstetricians in the hospital. She made the decision to go through a “trial of labor” to see if she could deliver her twins vaginally.
Now, in labor, Leah had to make a choice she had not been prepared for: What form of pain relief should she use during delivery? Should she ask for an epidural? If she had had the C-section as scheduled, she would have an epidural or spinal without question. But she really hadn’t explored other helpful techniques like meditation or breathing methods. What about other drugs? Leah regretted not thinking about this earlier.
Pregnant mothers of twins usually decide in advance whether they will be having a C-section or vaginal delivery. Those planning a vaginal delivery have a big decision to make about pain relief during labor. Those planning a C-section may have enough information about epidurals before the big day. Getting an epidural (or a spinal) can be a scary event, and unnecessary fears may be avoided if women are informed.
What is an epidural?
Dr. Phillip Bridenbaugh, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in 2015 and editor of the book “Neural Blockade” the definitive book about pain management, described an epidural as a tiny tube placed into the spinal fluid. A small amount of medicine is injected and runs through the tube in a continuous, slow drip.
The medicine is usually similar to Novocain but sometimes is an opiate, like morphine. It temporarily numbs the roots coming from the spinal cord, stopping pain and other sensations. Higher doses can numb the nerve roots more, preventing leg movements.
How is a spinal different?
A spinal is a similar method of pain control. It involves a single injection of the same medicine into (instead of outside) the sac containing the spinal fluid. It causes complete numbness and is safe. It works well for scheduled C-sections or pain during delivery, but not as well for labor pain with vaginal deliveries. This is because it is given as a single dose that only lasts for a set amount of time, typically two to three hours. Labor often lasts much longer.
An informed decision
So, what does one really need to know to make an informed decision about epidurals? Mothers expecting twins have special reasons to consider epidurals for vaginal deliveries. For one, they are more likely to end up having a C-section as there is a greater likelihood of complications delivering multiples. Dr. Bridenbaugh says that once an epidural is in place, no further steps need to be taken if a C-section is required. If a pregnant mother of twins tries natural labor with no epidural, and she ends up needing a C-section, an epidural or spinal has to be put in fast, or she may end up “knocked out” with a general anesthetic.
Women delivering twins may likely end up needing a forceps delivery. Epidurals are especially good for forceps deliveries because they cause the muscles around the vagina to relax more completely, as well as eliminate the pain caused by the forceps.
Mothers of twins also may need “manual” help delivering the placenta. This is when an obstetrician removes the placenta by hand. Difficulties can occur because the placenta is usually bigger with twins, and sometimes there are two placentas. Epidurals protect against pain in this often unexpected procedure. Prolonged labor is another issue. Many women delivering twins choose epidurals when in prolonged labor rather than relying on natural techniques, such as breathing methods, which are hard to sustain for long periods of time.
Should you worry about injury from an epidural? Dr. Bridenbaugh stated that serious or permanent injury to the nerve roots is extremely rare: one in around 40,000 to 60,000 patients. An infrequent complication is a dural puncture, which is a temporary tiny hole in the dura mater surrounding the spinal cord. This may cause a headache after the procedure. However, headaches are much less common after epidurals than they are after spinals.
Epidurals are the best method of pain relief available for labor. While her obstetrician was stuck in the snow, Leah decided to use an epidural while she tried delivering vaginally. She had felt moderately painful contractions for months while she was on bed rest.
When she received the epidural, the pain relief was so complete and immediate she described her feeling as euphoric. She said she finally realized how much pain she had been in all along, and, at that moment, she felt total relief.
Pregnant mothers of twins often get epidurals, as do mothers who already have had twins and are pregnant with another child. Learning the basic facts about epidurals may ease some fears and help with decision making. Those who use epidurals should do so without guilt, disappointment or fear that they are harming their babies.
About the Author:
Karen Jobalia, M.D., of Cincinnati, Ohio, works with many parents expecting multiples.