What is a Walking Epidural?

Walking epidurals have become all the rage when it comes to the most popular trends for childbirth today. One of the biggest complaints in the past regarding epidurals has been that they are too heavy and in some cases, mothers may even need help rolling over from one side to the other in bed. Hence the walking epidural may solve the problem of mobility yet provide much needed pain relief.

Walking Epidural

How Does the Walking Epidural Work?

Just like having a traditional epidural, an anesthesiologist will numb the mother’s lower back with a local anesthetic. Mothers will most likely be sitting on the bed with their back curved into a “c position.” The anesthesiologist will administer a combined spinal-epidural (CSE) by first administering a dose of an epidural opioid such as Demerol.

Some anesthesiologists inject the labor drug into the spinal fluid, while newer techniques are being used where the medication goes into the epidural space. The epidural space is the area just outside the covering of the spinal column where a traditional epidural would be administered.

The walking epidural numbs the laboring mother’s pain using the opioid drugs, rather than using the typical anesthetics that also deaden the mother’s motor and sensory abilities. So the walking epidural works to allow her both better mobility and reduced labor pain.

Are Walking Epidurals Safe?

One of the arguments used against the walking epidural is that laboring women may not be able to feel their legs adequately and they could fall or injure themselves. Although there have been just a handful of studies, none of the mothers fell while they were utilizing the walking epidural. When studying the effects of walking epidurals on labor, French researchers stated that “walking epidural analgesia appeared safe for nulliparous (first-time mothers) women and their babies.”

In addition, the CSE or walking epidural did not increase any complications for the mother or her baby as compared to the effects from traditional epidurals.

Will Walking Epidurals Shorten My Labor?

Research is unclear about whether or not walking epidurals shorten labor. One study actually showed that mothers who used a walking epidural had a longer first stage of labor (from 0-10 cm) than those using traditional epidurals.

It is not uncommon to have any type of pain medication slow labor. Research consistently shows that pushing takes longer in mothers with epidurals. More research on the effects of walking epidurals on the length of first and second stage labor is needed.

How Much Mobility Will I Have with a Walking Epidural?

The amount of mobility with a walking epidural varies from mother to mother. Most women are able to walk from the bed to the bathroom. Some are also able to walk around their labor room, sit in a chair near the bed and change positions easily.

It is best to discuss options for mobility with your medical team so that they can safely advise you as to how much mobility is possible.

Do Walking Epidurals Reduce Risk of Vacuum or Forceps?

Since a lighter dose of medication is administered, it makes good sense that walking epidurals may actually help the mother push more effectively than a traditional epidural. In fact, research shows that mothers who used walking epidurals had significantly fewer births that required a vacuum extractor or forceps.

What Should I do if I Want to Use a Walking Epidural?

Bear in mind that not all facilities for birthing may provide the option for walking epidurals. Be sure to ask about walking epidurals as you take your hospital tour or interview your care provider.