Mothers-to-be often put themselves under huge pressure to have as natural a birth as possible.
But now it has emerged there could be a medical benefit to having an epidural, aside from pain control.
According to new research, mothers who have pain relief in the form of an epidural are less likely to go on to have post-natal depression.
Around 140,000 women who give birth each year in the UK are believed to suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health problems during pregnancy or shortly after they have their baby. While post-natal depression can often be dismissed as baby blues, it can have a serious impact on the women affected and their families.
According to the new study, women who have effective pain relief are less likely to be diagnosed with post natal depression.
The research looked at the medical records of a total of 201 women who had an epidural. They were asked to rate the pain they felt during birth on a scale of one to ten.
Risk of suffering from depression was then calculated using the recognised Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EDPS) six weeks after they gave birth.
They found those with less pain were less likely to have mental health issues.
Dr Grace Lim, director of obstetric anaesthesiology at Magee Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, said this research showed that pain during labour might be fleeting, but that it could have a long-term and detrimental effect on some mothers.
Dr Lim said: “Labour 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.
“We found that certain women who experience good pain relief from epidural analgesia are less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms in the postpartum period.”
It makes sense then that reducing paid could in turn reduce the risk of post-natal depression.
However, further research is now necessary to try to determine which women are more likely to experience labour pain which they rate as severe.
Currently, around one in every three women in England has an epidural, either through choice or for medical reasons.
An epidural works through the injection of local anaesthetic or another pain-relieving medicine into the space surrounding the spinal cord. It temporarily numbs the nerves so the pain cannot be felt.