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Why You Might Actually Want to Get That Epidural—Besides Pain Relief

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If you've been pregnant or had someone close to you give birth, you probably know all about epidurals, a form of anesthesia commonly used in the delivery room. They are usually given shortly before vaginal birth (or a C-section) and are delivered by injecting medication directly into a small space in the lower back right outside the spinal cord. Generally, epidurals are thought of as a safe, highly-effective way to numb the pain experienced when giving birth. Of course, many women prefer to go for a natural birth, where little to no medications are used, but an epidural almost certainly means there will be less pain during delivery. Right now, we know a lot about the physical benefits of having an epidural, but information on their psychological implications is limited.

In a new study presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists' annual meeting, researchers explained that they've found another reason women may want to consider getting an epidural. After evaluating the birth records of just over 200 new mothers who had epidurals, the researchers found that postpartum depression was less common in women who had epidurals that were effective at relieving pain. Postpartum depression, which is characterized by symptoms similar to those of depression but with added complications related to new motherhood, affects approximately one in eight new mothers according to the Centers for Disease Control, making it a very real and very common problem. Essentially, the researchers found that the more effective the epidural, the lower the risk for postpartum depression. Pretty amazing stuff.

Even though this is great news for women considering epidurals, the researchers caution that they don't have all the answers yet. "Although we found an association between women who experience less pain during labor and lower risk for postpartum depression, we do not know if effective pain control with epidural analgesia will assure avoidance of the condition," said Grace Lim, M.D., director of obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women's Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and lead investigator on the study in a press release. "Postpartum depression can develop from a number of things including hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, social support, and a history of psychiatric disorders." So an epidural doesn't guarantee you'll avoid postpartum depression, but there's definitely a positive correlation between less painful births and not having it.

Choosing a delivery method is a very personal decision to made between a woman and her doctor (slash mid-wife). And you may still choose to have a natural birth for a variety of reasons: epidurals may make labor last longer and raise your temperature, and some women say natural birth helps them feel more present during delivery. Some moms are concerned about epidural side effects like hypotension (a drop in blood pressure), itchiness, and severe spinal headache after delivery, according to our sister site Fit Pregnancy. Still, most risks are rare and aren't harmful if treated promptly.

For now, it seems like more research is needed to understand the full implications of epidurals on postpartum depression risk, but if you're already pretty sure you are going to have one, this new discovery is definitely a welcome one.

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