An epidural is a type of anesthetic that can provide pain relief during labor and delivery. Specifically, it is a regional anesthetic that blocks nerve impulses of the lower spine. It decreases sensations of pain in the lower half of the body.
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 50 percent of women choose an epidural during labor and delivery. For many, an epidural can make an otherwise painful experience more controlled, calm, and comfortable.
How is an epidural administered?
An epidural is usually administered when a woman is in active labor, but it can also be used sooner if needed.
To increase the effectiveness of the epidural, the mother will lie on her side or sit with her back curved forward. A needle is inserted into the lower back between the layers of tissue covering the spinal cord, known as the epidural space. Then a catheter, or small tube, is passed through the needle. The needle is then removed, leaving the catheter in place, and is taped to your back to keep it in place. This allows for the medication to be regulated and adjusted according to the woman’s needs.
How effective is the pain relief?
Can an epidural affect my baby?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, babies born to mothers who receive an epidural do not suffer any disadvantages over the long term. However, it’s possible for the baby to experience a decreased heart rate or respiratory depression due to the medication being delivered.
An epidural can also increase the length of time it takes to deliver, but estimates are that the increased time is less than an hour. However, many women are OK with the increase given they are comfortable during that time. Additionally, with a dense epidural, the mother may not feel the sensation to push due to the effects of the epidural. This can make it more likely that tools, such as a vacuum or forceps, will be used to assist the delivery process. It is important to note epidurals do not increase the risk that a woman will need to deliver by C-section.
Reviewed by Jennifer Lincoln, March 2020
- An epidural is a regional anesthetic that provides pain relief during labor and delivery.
- The medication is delivered into the epidural space.
- Pain relief is typically felt after 10-20 minutes.
- Although epidurals do not cause long-term problems in babies, they can cause difficulties with breastfeeding, increase the time period for delivery and cause a reduced heart rate or breathing problems in babies.