Sunday 17 December 2017

More women making pain-free birth a priority

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Thinkstock

Growing numbers of Irish women are opting for a pain-free birth, new figures show.

Between 2005 and 2009 there was a 33pc increase in administered epidurals, the procedure which involves an injection given by an anaesthetist.

The anaesthetic is injected into the the area of the spine known as the epidural space and it works by blocking the nerve roots which lead to the lower part of the body.

Hospitals pointed out that while there has been a 33pc increase in epidurals during those years, it coincided with a 22pc rise in births.

The figures, obtained by the Irish Independent, show that 33,141 women who gave birth nationally in 2005 had an epidural but this climbed to 44,160 in 2009.

There were 64,237 births in 2005 but this climbed to 74,278 in 2009.

Epidurals are administered during natural childbirth but also during a caesarean section, where the baby is delivered through a cut made in the abdomen.

The risks to the mother from an epidural are small but there is a one in 100 chance it could result in a puncture of the dura -- which is the the outermost layer that surrounds the spinal cord.

There is also a very rare risk of infection happening in the weeks following an epidural -- the chances of this happening are just one in 47,000.

There is no guarantee

the epidural will provide the necessary pain relief during labour and as many as one in eight women may need other pain-relief methods also.

The figures follow a study carried out by the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction at the Coombe hospital in Dublin.

It found that women put availability of an epidural seventh in their top 10 list when choosing the kind of maternity care they want.

They ranked it above nice physical surroundings and availability of a private room. The top consideration was safety for the baby, followed by safety for the mother.

Meanwhile, the 'British Medical Journal' reported that the risk of experiencing severe complications following an epidural is overestimated.

A study of patients estimated the risk of permanent harm after an epidural is less than one in 20,000 and in many circumstances is considerably lower.

Researchers at one hospital, the Royal United Hospital Bath in England, followed patients there over the course of a year. Up to 30 of them suffered permanent injury. For the rest, minor headaches afterwards were common and occasionally these were more severe.

Such headaches are believed to be caused if the lining of the fluid-filled space that surrounds the spinal cord is accidentally punctured as the local anaesthetic is injected into the epidural space.

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