I didn’t want an epidural. I wanted a natural childbirth. But I was having a baby — my first — in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where nearly every laboring mother got an epidural.

What’s an epidural?

An epidural is regional anesthesia that blocks the nerve impulses from the lower spine. The goal of an epidural is to give pain relief without blocking all feeling. Some two thirds of American women giving birth in the hospital — probably much more — get an epidural. In some hospitals, epidural rates are as high as 90 percent.

Why? The medical clock started ticking the moment you are admitted into the hospital. That’s how it works in hospitals in America. What is best for you and your baby becomes irrelevant. Your birth plan becomes irrelevant.

You can have it taped up on your door and the walls of the birthing room, like we did and the labor and delivery nurses won’t bother to read it. And if they do, they’ll likely laugh about it in the staff room.

Doctors and the hospital staff, often dictated by hospital policy, which is in turn dictated by insurance reimbursement, have a timeline and a woman’s body is expected to follow it. If your body doesn’t comply, they start intervening with synthetic hormones, anesthesia, and other “miracles” of modern medicine.

That’s what happened to me. I was told by a doctor I had never seen before, the only male in the practice, that I was “being selfish” for wanting a natural childbirth.

First came the epidural, administered by an anesthesiologist who threaded a catheter through a needle that he had placed in my back. Then came the Pitocin, to “speed up” my labor that was administered via an IV drip. It was as if labor was a race and I was falling behind.

Here’s what doctors don’t tell you when they tout the virtues of epidurals:

Epidural anesthesia contains opioids.

Epidurals contain a combination of drugs: an anesthesia like bupivacaine, chloroprocaine, or lidocaine.

And an opioid narcotic like fentanyl, morphine, or sufentanil.

An opioid. Heroin is an opioid. So is fentanyl.

I’ve spent the last two years researching and writing a book on addiction, which is considered one of the most pressing health crises of all time. During that time, there’s been a huge amount of media attention to the dangers of fentanyl. Everyone agrees: no baby should be exposed to fentanyl. Ever. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, M.D. calls fentanyl lethal. We heard from the new head of the CDC that fentanyl almost killed his son. We know that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Yet we give fentanyl to laboring women without telling them? And thereby make sure their babies are exposed to fentanyl?

Let me run that by you again: In America today, we are injecting up to 90 percent of laboring women with an opioid that goes directly into their spinal column that has the potential to cross the placenta and get into the baby’s bloodstream. Is this wise? Is there any reason that a thinking person would say, “Sure, dope my baby up with fentanyl?”

Your doctor tells you epidural anesthesia is “safe.” Yet you’re reading about the addiction crisis in America.

The fentanyl overdoses.

The deaths from addiction.

Might there be a connection between doping a baby with narcotics during birth and the opioid crisis?

Shrug your shoulders and say, no way. The dosing is too small. It’s not a big deal. But the safety of giving fentanyl to a newborn has never been studied. The FDA does not recommend babies be exposed to fentanyl or fentanyl use during labor and delivery. In fact, we are told by the FDA that it is absolutely not safe to give fentanyl to a pregnant woman.

Here’s what the FDA document actually says, “Labor and delivery: there is insufficient data to support the use of fentanyl in labor and delivery. Therefore, such use is not recommended.”

Being exposed to fentanyl is being exposed to a highly addictive synthetic drug. Opioids are highly addictive and very dangerous synthetic drugs. Why would we ever give them to a baby?

If your doctor gave you an epidural, your baby was most likely exposed to opioids. My baby was exposed to fentanyl.

I was bullied into getting an epidural by an insensitive doctor. With the full collusion and support of a hospital that puts profits over people, as nearly every hospital in America does. My firstborn was exposed to fentanyl without my knowledge or consent. I had no idea that synthetic opioids were a main ingredient in epidurals.

Early childhood exposures and early childhood trauma both play a seminal role in adult addiction. A 2015 study by a team of researchers at Columbia University found that the use of epidurals was associated with measurable changes in the volume of a newborn’s brain. If you want a baby with a healthy body and a healthy brain who grows up free from addictions, you need to understand that the most scientific, healthiest birth is the one with the fewest interventions.

If you’ve already had a baby and you had an epidural, like I did, don’t waste time feeling guilty or self-critical. If you’re trying to conceive, newly pregnant, or having a baby soon, now you know what I wish I had known. There are many less dangerous, gentler, and more empowering techniques for managing labor pain.

Don’t get an epidural. Instead, educate yourself about opioid and other addictions, and spread the word to other expectant moms and dads about the dangers of epidurals.

This article was first published on jennifermargulis.net

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an investigative journalist, book author, and Fulbright awardee. She is the author of Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family, co-author (with Paul Thomas, M.D.) of The Vaccine-Friendly Plan, and The Addiction Spectrum: A Compassionate, Holistic Approach to Recovery. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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