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Pain Relief: Timing It Right

Despite what you may have heard, when it comes to getting an epidural, there's no perfect time -- each stage of labor has its advantages, say experts. Below, the pros and cons to consider (but remember: when you feel you need an epidural, be assertive and ask for it).

Early Labor (0 to 4 centimeters dilated)

Pros

  • Thanks to the newer, low-dose epidurals, you're pain-free for virtually your entire labor but still have the ability to move around.
  • You won't have to wait for the anesthesiologist later on, when the pain becomes even more intense.
  • If doctors have jump-started your labor with Pitocin, you'll appreciate the speedy pain relief.

Cons

  • An epidural will slow down contractions, and yours may not even have started in earnest.
Active Labor (4 to 10 centimeters dilated)

Pros

  • You can relax and possibly even doze.
  • You'll be able to conserve the energy you'll need to push the baby out.

Cons

  • None.
Pushing (fully dilated)

Pros

  • Once the pain is gone, you'll feel more like pushing.
  • If you need an episiotomy, you won't feel it, thanks to the epidural.

Cons

  • An epidural can decrease your ability to use your pelvic muscles and may slow down this stage by as much as an hour.
  • If your labor is progressing quickly, the epidural may not have time to kick in before the baby is born.

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