Epidural anesthesia is the most popular means for pain relief during labor. In fact, more women ask for an epidural by name than any other method of pain relief. Over 50% of women giving birth at hospitals use epidural anesthesia. It is important to understand the benefits and potential risks that an epidural may have when you are deciding if this option is right for you.
Epidural anesthesia uses repeated doses of a local anesthetic in the epidural space that surrounds the spinal cord in the lower back. The nerves from the uterus to the birth passage are numbed without stopping labor. The goal of an epidural is to provide an almost pain free labor experience while still allowing you too feel the pressure of a contraction and feel the need to push.
Before active labor begins and prior to the procedure of placing the epidural, intravenous (IV) fluids will be started. You can expect to receive 1-2 liters of IV fluids throughout labor and delivery. An anesthesiologist, a physician who specializes in anesthesia, will administer your epidural. The position you must be in for the epidural to be given may be uncomfortable but you will not have to stay in the position long. You may be asked to lie on your left side or sit up with your chin on your chest and your knees close to your stomach. An antiseptic solution will be used to wipe your waistline area of your mid back to minimize the chance of infection. A small area on your back will be injected with a local anesthetic to numb it. Then a needle will be inserted into the numbed area that surrounds the spinal cord in the lower back. A small tube or catheter is threaded through the needle into the epidural space. The needle is carefully removed leaving the catheter in place so medication can be injected as needed. The catheter will be taped to your back to prevent it from slipping out.
Does the placement of epidural anesthesia hurt?
This depends on who you ask. Some women describe an epidural placement as feeling a bit of discomfort in the area where the back was numbed and then feeling pressure as the small tube or catheter was placed.