Question: “At my hospital, they let you sign up ahead of time for an epidural. It seems like everyone’s doing it! I’m tempted, too, so I won’t have to go through all that pain. Is there any reason not to get an epidural?”

Answer: Giving birth without pain relief, while often seemingly ideal for both mother and baby, isn’t always in their best interest (as when pain becomes more intense or has gone on too long that it actually interferes with the progress or labor.) But routine sign-up-in-advance epidurals aren’t always in mothers and baby’s best interest, either.

It’s impossible to predict if you’ll need pain relief during labor before the pain has actually begun. And even though epidurals are safer and more effective than ever before, they, like every childbirth invention, do have some risk that must be weighed against the prospective benefit.

To sum it up, while it’s smart to prepare for the possibility that you’ll need an epidural (and to learn all you need to know about them) deciding in advance to sign up for one probably isn’t.