What is Epidural Block?

The epidural block is possibly the most effective and popular method of pain relief. In the United States alone, it is used by more than half of all laboring women. The epidural involves an injection given near the nerves in the lower back, thus numbing the lower body.

Effects of Epidural Block

The epidural mainly blocks pain from contractions and at the same time, it allows the patient to be awake and alert. The epidural can also be used for a cesarean delivery and it usually has very little or even no effect on the baby.

Candidates for Epidural Block

The epidural is for women who need regional anesthesia for labor and birth.

Your Consultation

Prior to the injection, the doctor will cleanse your lower back with an antiseptic and then apply a local anesthetic to numb the area.

The Epidural Block Procedure

First, you will be asked to sit or lie down on your side with your back curved outward. The doctor will insert the needle and then pass a small flexible tube called a catheter through it. It is likely that you would feel some pressure as the needle is inserted, but it should not be that painful. The doctor will then remove the needle, leaving the catheter in place so you can be given additional medication as needed, without needing another injection.

Recovery

After about 5 to 15 minutes, you should begin to feel some pain relief, though you may still feel some pressure during contractions. It is possible that you might not be able to walk around once the epidural takes effect, but you should be able to push during the delivery.

Risks

The epidural has a few disadvantages. Some women experience a drop in blood pressure that can temporarily slow down the baby’s heart rate. Your doctor will provide you extra fluids through a vein and may have you lie on your side in case this happens. There are also some women who experience mild itching, shivering or a fever. If this occurs, the doctor may want to test the baby for infection and then treat with antibiotics. Serious side effects in the mother are rare but could include severe headache that can last for days or weeks, breathing problems, dizziness and also seizures.

FAQs

Who administers an epidural?

An epidural is usually given by either an anesthesiologist (a doctor specializing in pain relief) or a nurse anesthetist (a registered nurse who has special training in pain relief).

Are there drawbacks to getting an epidural?

The epidural can greatly affect the course of your labor and delivery. Sometimes though, it results in more medical procedures. Women who get an epidural are likely to have longer labors and more vaginal deliveries where the doctor uses instruments to help the baby out. Since an epidural sometimes slows contractions, you may probably receive oxytocin, another drug that is given intravenously, to speed them up. But an epidural may also help relax women who are especially anxious or tense, thus aiding the contractions to pick up. It is also possible that an epidural can make it difficult to urinate so you may need a catheter to drain your bladder. The use of other drugs and IV fluids and frequent electronic fetal monitoring are also common with an epidural.

What happens during the procedure?

First, a needle is inserted into the epidural space that is just outside the spinal canal and then a catheter will be passed through it. After that, the needle is removed and the catheter stays in your back throughout your entire labor and until after the birth of your baby. Continuous medications will be given through the catheter to help keep you comfortable by numbing a narrow area of your lower abdomen. If necessary, the block may be extended to include your peritoneum.

How will I feel during the procedure?

A lot of people describe the procedure as slightly uncomfortable. You may experience some pressure or cramping and occasionally feel a small “shock” sensation. Those who have had two or more back surgeries in the area may feel more discomfort because of the presence of scar tissue. You will be wide awake during the procedure, though the doctor may provide you sedation before the procedure.

How will I feel during the procedure?

A lot of people describe the procedure as slightly uncomfortable. You may experience some pressure or cramping and occasionally feel a small “shock” sensation. Those who have had two or more back surgeries in the area may feel more discomfort because of the presence of scar tissue. You will be wide awake during the procedure, though the doctor may provide you sedation before the procedure.