Over 60% of laboring women use an epidural, making it the most popular pain management choice out there.
So what is it, exactly?
An epidural is a type of regional anesthesia that provides pain relief in a particular part of the body. It works by blocking nerve impulses from the spine to the lower half of your body.
An experienced anesthesiologist has to insert your epidural. But before that happens, you’re given IV fluids to keep you hydrated through labor.
How is an epidural actually done?
Typically, the anesthesiologist will wipe your lower back with an antiseptic to lower the chances of infection. Then, they will numb the area near the epidural site with a local anesthetic. In order to insert the epidural, they’ll ask you to arch your back while laying on your side. Positioning is very important for overall effectiveness and to avoid unintended complications.
The next step is to insert a needle into a precise place in the lower section of your spinal cord, followed by a small tube. The needle is then removed, but the tube (or catheter) remains. The tube allows for the medication to feed into your body and provide continual relief. Some epidurals are patient-controlled, where you get to decide the timing and flow of the medication; whereas others are continuous.
Timing is very important with epidurals; they can’t be given until you’re in active labor (at least 4 centimeters dilated). They also can’t be given too late because epidurals take time to put in and about 20 minutes to take effect. Obstetricians have varying opinions on the best timing, so talk to your doctor about your preferences.
If you’d like to read more about epidurals and other pain management options, read this related article in our Knowledge Center.
Our OB/GYNs and staff at All About Women are here to answer your questions. If you have any questions or concerns about epidurals or other pregnancy issues, please contact us to set up an appointment.