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What is an Epidural?

An epidural is a type of anesthetic that can provide pain relief during labor and delivery. Specifically, it is a regional anesthetic that blocks the nerve impulses of the lower spine. It decreases sensations of pain in the lower half of the body.

The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 50 percent of women choose an epidural during labor and delivery. For many, an epidural can make an otherwise painful experience more controlled, calm, and comfortable.

How is an epidural administered?

An epidural is usually administered when a woman’s cervix has dilated at least 4-5 centimeters. Prior to receiving an epidural, the area of the back is cleansed and the skin is numbed with a local anesthetic. Intravenous fluids are also administered before the epidural is placed.

To increase the effectiveness of the epidural, the mother will lie on her side or sit with her back curved forward. A needle is inserted into the lower back between the layers of tissue covering the spinal cord, known as the epidural space. Then a catheter, or small tube, is passed through the needle. The needle is then removed, leaving the catheter in place, and is taped to your back to keep it in place. This allows for the medication to be regulated and adjusted according to the woman’s needs.

How effective is the pain relief?

The majority of women will experience complete pain relief after receiving an epidural. The effects from the epidural are noticeable within 10-20 minutes.

Can an epidural affect my baby?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, babies born to mothers who receive an epidural do not suffer any disadvantages over the long term. However, it’s possible for the baby to experience a decreased heart rate or respiratory depression due to the medication being delivered.

An epidural can also increase the length of time it takes to deliver since it’s difficult for the baby to move into an appropriate position for delivery. The mother may not feel the sensation to push due to the effects of the epidural. This makes it more likely that tools such as a vacuum or forceps will be used to assist the delivery process.


  • American Pregnancy Association
  • Epidural Anesthesia.
  • National Library of Medicine: Fact Sheet
  • Epidurals for Pain Relief in Labor.

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