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)
- 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.
- An epidural will slow down contractions, and yours may not even have started in earnest.
Active Labor (4 to 10 centimeters dilated)
- You can relax and possibly even doze.
- You'll be able to conserve the energy you'll need to push the baby out.
Pushing (fully dilated)
- 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.
- 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.