Epidural: What Is it and How Does it Work

Epidural: What Is It and How Does It Work?

As you enter your third trimester and count down to the big day, you may be thinking about pain relief options for when you go into labour, such as an epidural injection. You may have heard of this popular method of delivering pain relief, but if you’re not sure what it is, read on to find out everything you need to know about getting an epidural for your labour.

What Is an Epidural?

An epidural anaesthetic is one of the most common types of pain relief used during labour and delivery. A catheter is injected into the epidural space in the lower back that can administer the pain relief medication that’s needed to numb your lower abdomen and birth canal. One of the main benefits of having an epidural is that it won’t make you drowsy, so you can remain alert and awake throughout delivery, while eliminating the pain.

It may take 10 to 15 minutes for the epidural shot to start to work, and the medication it delivers can be adjusted or topped up as needed so you feel comfortable.

An epidural can only be administered by an anaesthetist, so it won’t be available if you opt for a home delivery. If you decide an epidural is the pain relief choice you want to go with, check that there is an anaesthetist always available at your hospital.

Does Getting an Epidural Hurt?

Having a needle and a catheter inserted into your lower back may sound like a painful procedure, but before you get an epidural inserted into the space outside your spinal cord, your anaesthetist will give you a local anaesthetic to block this pain.

Once you’re on the epidural, you can still move and push, but depending on the medication you’re on, you may not be able to walk. Your contractions will also need to be monitored continuously along with the baby’s heart rate while you’re on an epidural.

What Are the Epidural Pros and Cons?

Getting an epidural is a decision you and your doctor make together. However, you may want to consider the epidural’s side effects and risks, as well as its benefits, to find out whether this method of pain relief is right for you.

These are the main benefits an epidural provides:

  • It should not make you feel sick or drowsy.
  • It will take away all your labour pain.
  • It will have a minimal effect on your baby.
  • A mobile epidural will provide pain relief without numbing your lower body.

The epidural block’s risks may include

  • a decrease in your blood pressure, which, in turn, can slow the baby’s heart rate
  • longer delivery time
  • headaches
  • itchiness
  • soreness in your back following the procedure.

If you would like to use an epidural when you go into labour, discuss this with your GP, doctor, or anaesthetist beforehand. Occasionally there may be a medical reason that you may not be suitable for an epidural, so you may want to discuss your pain relieving options before the big day.

Before your big day comes, explore all the pain relief options available to find the best one for you. For some women, an epidural is the best option, but even if you decide it isn’t for you, there are still other ways you can make yourself more comfortable during labour. Whatever decision you make with your doctor, make sure you’re confident it’s the right choice for you. Once you feel prepared for labour and delivery, find out what happens after birth.

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