Julie Rackliffe Lucey, MS
Epidural anesthesia refers to the placement of a catheter to administer medication to numb the abdomen and legs.
An epidural is used to decrease pain during labor. An epidural directly affects the nerves that come from your spinal cord. It numbs the pain in the lower half of your body. It will also help to relieve the pain in your lower back that is often associated with childbirth.
After an epidural, you should no longer be able to feel:
An epidural may make labor take longer. It may also increase the chance that you are not able to feel your contractions or feelings to push. If this happens, the medicine can be decreased until some feeling returns.
An epidural can lower the mother’s blood pressure. This can affect the amount of oxygen that reaches your baby. Before an epidural is administered, you will be given IV fluids. The baby’s heart rate will be watched with a fetal heart rate monitor attached to your body. You will be positioned on your left side, so that your enlarged uterus will not compress the large blood vessels returning blood to your heart.
You may have a headache after having an epidural. This can be treated.
You cannot have epidural anesthesia if the following occurs:
Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate will be monitored. Your baby's heart rate will be checked. Before an epidural can be placed, IV fluids will be started.
After the epidural is placed in your back, you will need to move from side to side. Doctors will attach a belt that monitors the heart rate of your baby. You may experience the following side effects:
The initial numbing of the walls of the uterus or womb will take only a few minutes. You should feel the full effect of the pain reliever within 20 minutes after the catheter is placed. Additional doses of medicine can be given through the catheter so that the numbness lasts until the baby is born.
Placing the needle into your back may hurt a little bit. Most people feel only a little pressure as the catheter is placed in the lower back.
The epidural will have worn off before you go home. Call your doctor if you have:
American Academy of Family Physicians
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health Matters
Bennett MJ, Leader LR, et al.
Handbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 4th ed. London, UK: Chapman and Hall; 1996.
Comfort measures (pharmacologic) during labor. DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated November 12, 2012. Accessed December 20, 2012.
A Manual of Clinical Obstetrics. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott Company; 1985:343:619-621.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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