The epidural block procedure began early in the twentieth century. It was originally used to treat diseases. German physicians discovered in 1912 that injecting anaesthetics into the spine could eliminate pain. The first noted success of the epidural procedure for childbirth in America was in 1942, when it was used as a last resort for the wife of a coast guard who suffered from rheumatic heart disease.
Epidurals were tested and put into use in 1942. It is important to note, though, that with an epidural, labor is slowed down significantly. A woman’s body releases oxytocin, a pain-relieving endorphin, naturally during pregnancy. Oxytocin also helps dilate the cervix. With an epidural, less oxytocin is released, so labor will not be as quick as with natural birth. Some feel very strongly that it is important to have a natural birth, and oppose epidurals. This site weighs the pros and cons. However, it is ultimately the decision of the birthing mother as to what steps she would like to take during her birth.
Epidurals became really popular around the 1950s. There are pros and cons to them. The documentary The Business of Being Born gives an interesting look on birthing methods in America, including the popularization of epidurals.
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