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Epidural Anesthesia in Childbirth

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by Lucey JR

(Peridural Anesthesia; Regional Anesthesia; Epidural)


What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

  • 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.

Description of the Procedure

  • You will need to arch your back and remain very still. You will either be lying on your side or sitting up.
  • The area around your waistline on your middle back will be wiped with an antiseptic solution to reduce the chance of infection. The solution may feel cold on your skin.
  • A small area on your back will be injected with a local anesthetic to make it numb.
  • A needle will be inserted into the numbed area in your lower back. A catheter (small tube) will be threaded through the needle into the space that surrounds your spinal cord in your lower back.
  • The needle will be removed and the catheter taped to your back. The doctor will use the catheter to put more medicine in, if necessary.

Immediately After Procedure

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:
  • Shivering
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Backache
  • Soreness where the needle is inserted
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty urinating

How Long Will It Take?

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.

How Much Will It Hurt?

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.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center
  • If labor continues for more than a few hours after the epidural, you may need a urinary catheter. This is a tube that your urine will pass through when you need to go to the bathroom. It will be removed after the baby is born.
  • Rarely, the effect of the epidural may progress up your spinal cord causing difficulty in breathing. Tell your doctor if you experience this.
  • A few hours after the baby is born, you may feel a tingling in the lower half of you body. This means that the anesthesia is wearing off. You may need help to walk until the anesthesia wears off completely.
  • If you have a headache, let your nurse or doctor know.


American Academy of Family Physicians

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists



Health Canada

Women's Health Matters



Comfort measures (pharmacologic) during labor. DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 12, 2012. Accessed December 20, 2012.

Whitley N. A Manual of Clinical Obstetrics. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott Company; 1985:343:619-621.


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