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Health Information For Parents
Epidurals are a way to make labor and delivery less painful and more calm and controlled.
Epidurals are a form of regional anesthesia. They provide continuous pain relief to the entire body below the belly button (including the vaginal walls) during labor and delivery. With an epidural, a woman is comfortable and still fully awake.
An epidural (sometimes called an epidural block) is what most women think of when they consider pain medicine during labor.
An epidural involves medicine given by an
. A thin, tube-like catheter is inserted through the lower back into the area just outside the membrane covering the spinal cord (called the epidural space). You’ll sit or lie on your side with your back rounded while the doctor inserts the epidural catheter.
It only takes a couple of minutes to insert an epidural. The skin is numbed first, so you’ll feel just a stick or pinch and some pressure. A needle is only used to thread the thin catheter into place. Then, it’s removed. You may be aware of the catheter in your back, but this isn’t painful or uncomfortable.
You should start to feel the effects of the medicine in 10–20 minutes. You may still feel the pressure of contractions, but you shouldn’t feel the pain. Being aware of your contractions will help once you start to push.
As the doctor adjusts the dosage, your legs may feel a little weak, warm, tingly, numb, or heavy. Unlike with some other labor and delivery medicines, you’ll be fully alert and aware of what’s going on.
The epidural catheter will stay in place throughout your labor and delivery.
Epidurals do have some drawbacks. They might:
Some studies suggest that epidurals may increase the chances of C-sections or vaginal deliveries that require forceps or vacuum extractions, but others show no connection.
Some epidural medicine does reach the baby. But it’s much less than what a baby would get if the mother had pain medicines through an IV or general anesthesia.
The risks of an epidural to the baby are minimal, but include possible distress. Usually, this means the mother’s lowered blood pressure causes a slower heartbeat in the baby.
You may shiver a little after your baby is born (which is common with or without an epidural). Your legs might be numb and tingly as the medicine wears off, which may take a little while. So you might not be able to walk around for at least a few hours after the birth. Even after that, ask someone to help you until your legs feel back to normal. If you had a C-section, the doctor may continue the epidural for a while after the delivery to control any pain.
Your back might be sore for a few days where the epidural was inserted. Very rarely, women who get epidurals may have very bad headaches after the birth.
The reality of labor and birth may seem extremely far off – but now’s the time to start planning for your baby by creating a birth plan that details your wishes.
Here’s how to tell the difference between true labor and false labor — and when to get medical care.
Learning all you can about childbirth pain is one of the best ways to help you deal with it when the time comes.
Some women choose to give birth using no medications at all, relying instead on relaxation techniques and controlled breathing for pain. Get more information on natural childbirth.
Many babies are delivered via cesarean sections. Learn why and how C-sections are done.
Where you choose to give birth is an important decision. Is a hospital or a birth center right for you? Knowing the facts can help you make your decision.
Find out why doctors may induce labor if you’re past your due date, how it may be done, and how it may affect you and your baby.
After giving birth, you’ll notice you’ve changed somewhat – both physically and emotionally. Here’s what to expect after labor and delivery.
Advice and information for expectant and new parents.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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