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?

The majority of women will experience complete pain relief after receiving an epidural. The effects from the epidural are noticeable within 10-20 minutes.

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.


  • 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.

Last reviewed by Jennifer Lincoln, MD, IBCLC. Review Date: March 2020


  1. American Pregnancy Association. Epidural Anesthesia.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Fact Sheet. Epidurals for Pain Relief in Labor.


  1. I’m just seeing this now Carolina- but I feel ya! I had two epidurals as well and the first one only worked on one half of my body. I also shook uncontrollably and it took many, many days for the numbness to go away in my one leg in which it worked. I was incredibly hesitant to have another during the second delivery, but I got to 5 cm’s and couldn’t take the pain anymore. Thank goodness it worked fully that time.

    1. Did you discuss with your new OB? We’re wishing you a healthy birth, a happy baby, and a peace before you deliver with no anxiety creeping in!


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