What Is An Epidural? And Related Questions For Pregnant Mothers

Many expectant mothers spend a lot of time thinking about pain relief during labor. If you're an expectant mother, you may be struggling with this as well. It can be hard to decide which type of pain relief--if any--is right for your situation.  This FAQ explores the epidural, which is an effective type of pain relief that can help many women have a more comfortable labor. This FAQ can help expectant mothers decide for themselves whether or not an epidural is right for them.  

What is an epidural?

An epidural is an injection of anesthesia that is administered while an expectant mother is in labor. The epidural numbs the belly and often everything that falls below the belly.

Will an epidural provide complete pain relief?

The effectiveness of the epidural depends on the patient and the skill with which the anesthesia is administered to the patient. Some patients may feel nothing below the belly, others may feel some sensations.

How is an epidural administered?

An epidural is administered through a tube that's injected into the spine. The mother is asked to bend forward while the epidural is being administered. This helps to spread the vertebrae of the spine, which makes it easier for the epidural to be administered to the right spot in the back.

Who can have an epidural?

In general, if you're giving birth in a hospital in the United States, an epidural is likely available to you. The reasons why some people are unable to have epidurals include:

  • Epidural anesthesia can interfere with some types of medications. If a mother is on one of these medications, she may not be able to have an epidural.
  • Sometimes the anesthesiologist can't find a proper epidural space in the back. This could result in the anesthesiologist deciding not to administer the epidural.
  • Many hospitals restrict the point at which an epidural can be administered during a woman's labor.

What are the benefits of an epidural?

Epidurals can allow women to have a more pleasant and less painful birth experience. Epidurals also make it easier to manage some of the negative effects of childbirth, like fatigue and irritability.

If you want an epidural, how can you get one?

If you are in labor at the hospital, you can request an epidural by simply speaking to your attending physician or nurse. Your attending physician or nurse may be able to help you get an epidural during your labor.

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