The Epidural Risk No One Warns You About

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We had talked about the risks, options and alternatives with the doctor. I had an epidural with my first daughter so why would the second be any different? There was one epidural risk no one ever mentioned.

Read my post: “What I didn’t Know About Getting An Epidural”

I had already spent the night in the hospital after being administered Cervadil. It was a planned induction, just like with my first. I was past forty weeks pregnant and ready to meet my baby girl. After a couple hours of mild contractions, but no real progress, the doctor devised a plan. I would get the epidural first and then she’d break my water. Easy enough.

The anesthesiologist came in and prepared me for the epidural process. I knew it would be a little painful. But hey a brief period of discomfort for a labor free from intense pain, I’d take it. But this time it took longer, a lot longer. Upon completion, he informed me that a ‘wet tap’ or ‘spinal tap’ occurred. This was an epidural risk that he explained didn’t happen very often.

What is a Wet Tap?

A ‘wet tap’ is when there are multiple pokes into the fluid sack around the spinal cord which causes some of the fluid to leak out. In my case, there was not enough space in between the vertebrae for the epidural upon first insertion. This caused the anesthesiologist to make a second insertion further down my back. The anesthesiologist explained that in some cases this could cause a spinal headache, but usually not for 24-48 hours. He also said he only ever has one wet tap (if that) per year and it’s not common for someone who’s experienced. Lucky me.

I didn’t feel the effects of a headache, so I put the notion out of my mind. After all, I had a baby to deliver. About 5 hours of labor and 20 minutes of pushing later and I was holding my beautiful 9lb 6oz baby girl. I had a quick and easy delivery and two glorious hours of cuddling and nursing my sweet baby before it was time to get cleaned up. Shortly after getting out of bed to shower, I began feeling really dizzy. My head was pounding.

I returned to my bed and laid completely flat since that was the only position that provided some relief. Upon speaking to the nurse, she recommended I consult with the anesthesiologist. He came back in to discuss the headache symptoms. Apparently the relief of laying flat was a sure sign that it was indeed a spinal headache. He informed me that the best solution would be a blood patch.

What is a Blood Patch?

An epidural blood patch is a procedure that uses blood drawn from your arm in order to close holes in the fluid sack of the spinal cord, usually as a result of a previous lumbar puncture (wet tap). Basically this meant they needed to reinsert the epidural needle in my spine while simultaneously drawing blood from my arm and then inserting the blood into my spinal column. Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.

The pressure in my back while the blood was inserted was like nothing I have ever felt before. But it worked. I was instructed to lay flat for an hour and when I could finally get up and walk around the headache was completely gone. We were transferred to our recovery room soon after and I enjoyed snuggling my sweet baby girl. Read more about a Blood Patch.

Epidural Risks No One Talks About

Not just a Headache

Flash forward 24 hours later and we were waiting to be discharged. I had a mild headache so decided to lay down. The anesthesiologist mentioned mild headaches were a common side effect, so I didn’t think much of it.

As we drove home, I realized the headache was much worse than I thought. I spent the whole morning laying down, so I didn’t realize that sitting up would be so excruciating.  I couldn’t sit upright in the seat, I needed to recline it to lay completely back to tolerate the drive home. After spending a few hours at home and taking a couple Excedrin Migraine with no relief, I called the doctor. She recommended I come back in to speak to the anesthesiologist again.

I was only able to speak with the anesthesiologist on call, not the one who performed the wet tap and the subsequent blood patch. The man I spoke to was very passive about the whole process. He claimed that the blood patch “should have worked” and that nothing more could be done. He also recommended that I keep pain medicine in my system, lay down and drink plenty of caffeine and that the headache should subside in 5-7 days.

How Was I Going to Do This?

Prolonged caffeine and pain meds? That’s exactly what a mom should be ingesting while breastfeeding. Lay down and rest? With a newborn and 2 year-old? Is that even possible? And 5-7 days? How was I going to do this.

I know what you’re thinking, a headache? It’s just a headache. This was so much worse than any headache I had ever felt, and it was relentless. I couldn’t get out of bed for two full days. Pain meds and caffeine didn’t even touch it. I spent most nursing sessions laying flat, and had family members taking turns helping with my 2 year-old. On the third day, I remember being excited that I was able to get both girls dressed and fed by myself (maybe 30 minutes tops) before having to lay flat again. I felt like such a failure as a mom. With a newborn depending on me for everything and a toddler who was already having trouble adjusting to a profound life change, I was hardly capable of helping either of them.

Epidural Risks

The One Thing That Helped

By the fourth day, I had researched a ton on Spinal Headaches, looking for any advice on how to help this subside faster. I read that wearing a medical grade girdle could help compress the spinal column thus reducing the sagging and pressure felt on the brain. Since I had my Bellefit Girdle in my hospital bag but hadn’t worn it since I came home, I decided to try it on and it helped immensely. Over the next few days, the only way I could function was by wearing my Bellefit. I had received the girdle to help lose baby weight but it did so much more. It was a life saver and the only thing that really helped. My headache continued to dull a little more each day. It had fully subsided 9 days after the initial wet tap took place.

The Epidural Risk No One Talks About

In searching the Internet, I couldn’t find a lot of information or stories about Spinal Headaches. I felt my story may help someone in the future with understanding and finding ways to cope with this unknown and un-talked about risk from a common epidural procedure.

If you have a wet tap, keep in mind that blood patches done in the first 24 hours are more likely to fail. A second blood patch is possible IF your anesthesiologist will do the procedure again. Bed rest is the only SURE fix if the blood patch fails, but a medical grade girdle and plenty of extra fluids help greatly. My symptoms lasted 9 full days but I have talked to other moms who had a lasting headache for up to a month. The pain can also radiate into the neck and shoulders. If you experience a spinal headache, hang in there! It is miserable but it will end, eventually. 

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11 Comments on “The Epidural Risk No One Warns You About”

  1. Yikes! That’s scary stuff! I’m glad your headache went away. I had an epidural with my first but they had to go in twice. I am dreading the thought of it with my second one…due soon. I am contemplating if I am going to get it. I was induced too, and I hear the pain is much worse then when the baby comes on their own. I guess time will tell!

    1. Thank you!! I have heard stories of both sides. Being more painful when induced and being more painful when it happens naturally. I think everyone and every birth is different. The whole process is filled with anxiety and excitement though! I hope your delivery goes smoothly regardless of the circumstances ?❤️ thanks for reading!!!

  2. This is terrifying to me and one of the reasons I’ve never wanted an epidural, I always hear these random horror stories that freak me out! But I really do appreciate you sharing your story because I’ve never heard of this risk before!

    1. I was so surprised that this wasn’t discussed as a risk with any of the medical professionals before hand. I had an epidural with my first daughter and everything went fine but the second time around was completely different! I just hope sharing helps other women feel more informed. Thanks so much for reading! ❤️

  3. I feel your pain! I got an epidural with my son, it didn’t work so I still felt the whole labor and had the same thing. the ride in a wheel chair to the room they gave me the blood patch in was by far the worst pain I have ever felt! when I had my daughter I said no epidural again but low and behold she was breach and the hospital wouldn’t let me have her naturally so a spinal block happened along with another blood patch. I just found out I’m pregnant again and I think I will just ask for them to do the blood patch while I’m still numb lol. it is horrible horrible pain luckily the two blood patches worked for me I couldn’t imagine having that pain for 9 days… oh man I’m so sorry

  4. That’s funny I ran across this this now. My baby is a little over 2 weeks now (first child) and I had this same situation and had no idea about the consequences. I read an article my mother in law sent me and it said only bedrest helps because if you sit or stand you’ll be in pain again. Mine was a dull full blown migraine from my whole head to my neck to my traps. My neck massager while laying down was how I survived for the week and a half that I suffered. And I say “suffered” because on a pain scale from 1-10 mine was a 9 to 10. Yes. The article also noted if you have headaches prepregnancy, no headaches during pregnancy, and you get an epidural, you’ll have this issue. Hope this helps you guys because I had no idea about this. No one ever discusses it..

    1. No one ever talks about it being a risk. I’m sorry you had to endure it too. Recovery from birth is already hard enough without the complication of a severe headache. I never really had headaches before this happened and now I occasionally get pretty bad migraines after the fact. I’m hoping that goes away eventually!

  5. I recently had my first baby, & this happened to me. No one talks about it, & I wish they would! I suffered for 2 days & thought I was a terrible mom cuz I couldn’t stay upright long enough to care for my newborn. It was awful. The blood patch worked the first time for me though. Grateful there was a fix.

    1. So glad the blood patch worked for you! It’s a shame the risk isn’t more readily talked about with healthcare providers. I didn’t know it was possible until it happened to me.

  6. After the birth of my son in 2002 I suffered this after a failed epidural. Omg the pain was like no headache I’d ever had in my life….or since!! The only relief I got was,like you-lying flat. It was horrendous and really spoiled the first week with my new baby. I’d never have an epidural again!!

    1. Yes! It sure does spoil those first few days with a precious new baby. I’m glad I’m not alone. The more stories I hear, the more I think drs need to be more open to sharing this risk when choosing an epidural.

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