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What are the risks to my baby if i have an epidural or pethidine?

Posted: 14 February 2010
by Sarah Jarvis

What are the risks to my baby if i have an epidural or pethidine? I'm not sure i'll be able to cope without pain relief, but I wonder why so many women aim for a 'natural birth'. Tessa, Coventry

Sarah Jarvis
Full-time GP and member of the Royal College of GPs

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Sarah says…
The aim of a natural birth is just that - an aim, because we don't know what kind of labour we are going to get. Women who want a drug-free approach do feel confident about their ability to give birth and believe their mind and body are designed to cope with what is ahead.

Pethidine, if given too close to delivery, can affect the baby's breathing, leaving him feeling groggy, which makes feeding tricky.

Epidurals can lower the mum's blood pressure which could cause the baby some distress. An epidural also raises the chance of needing a ventouse or forceps delivery.

However, you must make the birth choices that feel most comfortable for you. If you try other safer pain relief methods first, such as a TENS machine and gas and air, you've at least given yourself a chance to find out whether the natural approach is all you need.

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