This new study suggests pregnant women really, really should just get an epidural — here’s why

There are so many things a pregnant woman has to consider before giving birth. Like, will she breastfeed or will she use formula? Hospital or midwife (or both)? Is okay to wear leggings as pants for nine months (you do you, girl)? One longstanding split question among pregnant women is whether it’s better to give birth with or without painkillers. It might be time to stop questioning the meds because a new study says pregnant women should get an epidural. The epidural shot, which goes into the spine, is known for reducing labor pains.

An epidural is a contentious subject when it comes to mommy-wars. It’s not medically necessary and some women just don’t see the need for the shot or are worried about the possible negative side effects of anesthesia during labor (and high five to those women, because I would be begging for an epidural and a glass of wine during labor). While we totally respect both birthing choices, it now looks like there might be a super positive side effect of an epidural. According to new evidence, it’s good for your mental health postpartum.

The study was done by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which studied 201 women who had epidurals during labor. The researchers assessed the pain levels of women before and after the epidural and then met with them six weeks after birth. They found that the women who received an epidural and reported less pain during labor were less likely to show symptoms of postpartum depression at the six-week visit. Crazy, right?

Grace Lim, M.D., director of obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a lead investigator on the study said in a press release that, “Labor pain matters more than just for the birth experience. It may be psychologically harmful for some women and play a significant role in the development of postpartum depression. Of course, that doesn’t mean that if a women chooses to not get an epidural (or misses the opportunity to get one during labor) that she’s destined to suffer from depression in the months after giving birth. 

Lim added, “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.” That’s mainly because postpartum depression can stem from many other things, like hormonal changes, social support, or just the woman’s personal adjustment to being a mom.

Just like being a new mom, postpartum depression is super complicated. The researchers also didn’t note if the women who were less likely to struggle with postpartum depression “because” they had an epidural had any other history of psychological disorders or mental health issues or not. That would be interesting to know, since a history of depression means a woman might be at more risk for postpartum depression, epidural or not.

In any case, it’s interesting to know that the epidural or the pain felt during birth might have something to do with how you feel and your hormones later on. Either way, the choice to get a shot is a personal one and it certainly doesn’t come easy. Then again, nothing about pregnancy or motherhood really is, right?

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