Giving birth - what you need to know about epidurals

Giving birth – what you need to know about epidurals

You have probably already discussed some things about the delivery of your baby with your doctor, such as whether or not you want an epidural.  There are many things about this pain relief method that you need to know.  For example, you want to know what to expect during the procedure, and the advantages and disadvantages of using one.  While your doctor can answer all of these questions for you, you want to be armed with some basic information before you and your doctor talk about it.

What is the Procedure Like?

To insert the epidural needle, you will either need to get on your side into the fetal position, or your doctor will have you sit on the edge of the bed and lean over.  Your back is then cleansed and a small needle is used to inject a numbing agent.  The needle is placed into the epidural space and a catheter is fed through this.  Your medication will go through the catheter.  This procedure can cause some discomfort, but once the epidural is in and the medication is flowing through it, the discomfort is gone.  It takes about 20 minutes for the numbing effect to start really being noticeable.  Your vital signs and your baby’s will be regularly monitored during insertion and for the length of time you have the epidural.  This procedure is generally done when you are dilated about four to five centimeters.

What Are the Advantages?

The following are advantages to an epidural:

  • Effective pain relief
  • Safer than synthetic narcotics for your baby
  • This medication is easily controlled
  • Can provide the necessary anesthesia for a tubal ligation or a C-section
  • Medication is localized and controls your pain so that you can relax while waiting for your cervix to fully dilate


What Are the Disadvantages?

The following are disadvantages of an epidural:

  • You may have numb legs and be unable to stand
  • You must have an IV
  • You may need to push longer to deliver your baby
  • You may need forceps or a vacuum to deliver your baby
  • The drugs used can lower your blood pressure
  • The medications used may causing itching or nausea
  • You may not be able to sense when you need to urinate

Will an Epidural Affect the Baby?

This form of pain medication delivery has not been shown to negatively affect your baby.  The Apgar scores are not lower in babies who were delivered by a mother getting an epidural.  In fact, some studies show that babies sometimes have better Apgar scores when mom had an epidural during delivery.

Are Epidurals for Everyone?

Like most medical procedures and medications, not every woman is a good candidate for an epidural.  If you tend to have very low blood pressure, a blood infection, bleeding disorder, or a skin infection at the insertion site, you may not be able to have an epidural.  A history of anesthetic allergy could also exclude you.  If you are taking blood thinning medications, you likely will not be able to have an epidural.