A group called The Unnecesarean pointed out today that anesthesiologists, themselves, are aware that WALKING in labor (“ambulating” in medical terms) reduces cesarean rates. Though I am an advocate of natural hospital birth, I share the goal of reducing unnecessary cesareans. It seems to me that if “walking epidurals” are known to reduce the risk of cesarean in women who want epidural anesthesia, we should be offering these more often. (Please know that I say that with the belief that no woman should be offered anesthesia in labor that she does not want. Women who want a natural birth deserve FULL support for this!) As “The Unnecessarean” points out, the anesthesiologist quoted in this article is blunt in admitting that it is “easier” to manage laboring women in bed. But labor is not about ease. It is about birthing the next generation. It is worth the hard work of women AND hospital staff!
Here are some excerpts and a link to the article. Thank you to The Unnecesarean for pointing this out.
Most notably, only four of the patients who received a walking epidural experienced hypotension compared with 44 patients in the nonambulatory group. Only 113 in the walking group required bladder catheterization compared with 187 in the nonambulatory group. Motor block was seen far less frequently in the ambulatory group (14 vs. 145 patients in the nonambulatory group), and cesarean delivery was less common as well (53 vs. 65, respectively).
On the other hand, patients who received walking epidurals reported more pruritus and required more interventions, as demonstrated by higher total PCA volume and use of rescue doses of ropivacaine. The duration of labor was unaffected.
“Even with the benefits to the patient, walking epidurals are not used very often because they are more time-consuming in terms of patient management,” said study leader Shaul Cohen, MD, professor of anesthesiology at UMDNJ, in New Brunswick. “It’s much easier to keep them in bed with a Foley catheter. And it’s an insurance issue. Insurance companies pay for care not quality of care, and they won’t pay for the additional time and staff required by walking epidural.”
Dr. Cohen added that the increased use of cesarean delivery—nearly 45% of laboring women in New Jersey now undergo the surgery, he said—makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for obstetric anesthesiologists to offer patients the walking epidural approach.
Others in the field have a more tempered view of its benefits, however. “There is no ‘ideal’ epidural infusion regimen for labor analgesia,” said David Wlody, MD, chief of anesthesiology at the State University of New York-Downstate Medical Center, in New York City, and a specialist in obstetric anesthesiology. “Different patients, anesthesiologists and obstetric providers will have different expectations regarding pain relief in labor,” said Dr. Wlody, a member of the editorial board of Anesthesiology News, who was not involved in the latest research.
“Some patients may be willing to tolerate a greater amount of discomfort if it means enhanced ability to ambulate, while others will desire more pain relief at the expense of increased motor block,” Dr. Wlody added. “It is the responsibility of the anesthesiologist to balance these often conflicting goals in order to provide the best outcomes and the highest degree of patient satisfaction.”