The Effects of Long-Lasting Anesthesia During Birth

While the ideal is a natural, uninterrupted birth, there are circumstances when intervention and anesthesia become necessary. Unfortunately these are not without side effects to both mother and baby. The adverse consequences increase in direct proportion to the duration of anesthesia. Women should discuss the possibility of anesthesia with their doctors or midwives well before birth.

Complicates Vaginal Delivery

Anesthesia interferes with the hormones catecholamine, oxytocin, prostaglandin F2 and beta-endorphin. When at their peak, these hormones trigger a surge of feelings of well-being as well as a fetal ejection reflex. If a woman does not have the aid of natural hormones, it may be more difficult for her to push the baby out herself. Forceps, vacuum extraction or even Cesarean become likely next steps, all with further consequences to mother and baby, including longer healing time, increased chance of postpartum depression and other emotional and/or physical birth trauma.

Interferes with Mother-infant Bonding

On a very surface level, long-lasting anesthesia during birth will affect mother-infant bonding, simply because they necessitate the baby be taken from the mother for some period for further examination. While it takes several hours for the anesthesia to leave the mother’s system, the “American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology” reports anesthesia and its breakdown products circulate in the newborn’s system for three days. If both mother and baby are unable to be physically or emotionally present until drugs leave their systems, they miss the crucial first hour, when a majority of imprinting takes place.

Increased Chance of Addiction Later in Life

In a “British Medical Journal” study released in 1990, Bertil Jacobson et al. found that “a significant proportion of mothers of addicts had received opiates or barbiturates, and nitrous oxide during delivery.” The study went on to find a positive correlation between duration and frequency of drug administration in mothers and severity of addiction in offspring. As anesthesia use in labor is on the rise in the United States, this could have widespread consequences in the future.

Possible Link to Autism

Since autism diagnoses are on the rise along with incidences of prolonged anesthesia during labor, some researchers are looking into possible ties between the two. According to Autism Today, epidural use is “as high as 95 percent in some urban hospitals” and autism now affects “one person in 500, making it more common than Down syndrome or childhood cancer.” There is a theory, although not yet proven, that the drugs given in labor may later trigger autism in children.

About this Author

Jordan Bucher started writing and editing in 1998. Her work has appeared in “Austin Woman Magazine,” “Michigan Chronicle,” “Food & Wine” online and syndicated newspapers nationwide. Bucher specializes in health, psychology & self-help, food, sports and women’s issues. She holds an Bachelor of Arts in English from Carleton College and a certificate from The University of Denver Publishing Institute.