Epidural anesthesia is a medicine placed into the space around the spinal cord. It will block sensation in the belly and legs.
An epidural is used to decrease pain during labor. It blocks pain but does not put you to sleep. This allows you to interact with the care team.
After an epidural, you should no longer be able to feel:
Epidural is not appropriate for everyone. You cannot have epidural anesthesia if the following occurs:
Epidural can make it hard to feel contractions or the urge to push. This may lead to a longer labor. The medicine may need to be decreased. Other medicine may help to increase sensation.
An epidural can lower the mother’s blood pressure. This can affect the amount of oxygen that reaches you and your baby. The baby’s heart rate will be watched closely. Breathing problems can also happen if the medicine affects nerves linked to breathing.
Epidurals can cause headaches after treatment. This can be treated.
Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate will be monitored. Your baby's heart rate will be checked. IV fluids will be started.
You will be asked to lay on your side or sit. You will be asked to arch your back and remain very still. The area around your waistline on your middle back will be wiped. It is an antiseptic that can to reduce the chance of infection. An anesthesia medicine will be injected into the area. It will make it numb.
A needle will then be inserted into your lower back. A small tube will be threaded through the needle. It will be passed into the space around your spinal cord. The needle will be removed and the catheter taped to your back. The medicine will be given through the catheter. More medicine may be given through the tube so that the numbness lasts until the baby is born.
After the tube is placed you will be asked to move from side to side. You may have the following side effects:
It will only take a few minutes to place the tube. You should feel some pain relief within a few minutes. The full effect should happen within 20 minutes.
You may feel some pressure as the needle is being inserted.
You and the baby will be closely watched for changes. Other care for delivery will continue.
A tingling feeling may be felt as the anesthesia is wearing off. You may need help to walk until the anesthesia wears off completely.
The epidural will have worn off before you go home. Call your doctor if you have:
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Comfort measures (pharmacologic) during labor. DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116857/Comfort-measures-pharmacologic-during-labor. Updated August 13, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019.
Whitley N. A Manual of Clinical Obstetrics. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott Company; 1985:343:619-621.
Last reviewed January 2019 by Andrea Chisholm, MD Last Updated: 1/2/2019