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How will an epidural help during labor?

Posted by Be Well

How will an epidural help during labor?
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An epidural is a local anesthetic that provides pain relief from contractions, and during the last stages of delivery. Epidurals can be a very effective method of pain relief, and they are usually so accurate that they do not affect your ability to feel the pushing sensations during the final stage of active labor.

What happens during an epidural?

If you have epidural anesthetic, you will be asked to lie on your side with your knees drawn up and chin tucked in, or to sit on a bed, or chair, and lean forward. Local anesthetic will be injected into the space around your spinal cord, using a fine, hollow tube ( catheter) inserted into your lower back. The anesthetic should start working within 5-10 minutes.

The epidural numbs the nerves and the pain of contractions, although you should still be able to feel a touch on your skin. An epidural will last for about 2-4 hours, but it can be 'topped up' through the catheter, usually via a small pump that delivers the anesthetic at regular intervals.

If you have an epidural during labor, it will be carried out by an experienced anesthetist. An anesthetist is a healthcare professional who has been trained to give anesthetic. They are able to control how much feeling is lost through the dosage of anesthetic.

Potential problems

Occasionally, some women experience a drop in blood pressure with an epidural. This is corrected by giving plenty of fluids directly into a vein ( intravenous drip).

A headache may develop after an epidural has been given. It is caused when the needle accidentally pierces the dura, the membrane that holds the fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (cerebro-spinal fluid or CSF).

If too much fluid leaks through the hole, the pressure in the rest of the fluid is reduced. When you sit up, the pressure around your brain is reduced further, producing headache symptoms that typically occur between one day and one week afterwards.

The hole in the dura will usually mend itself over a number of days, or weeks. Severe headaches may be treated using an epidural ' blood patch', which is a similar procedure to the epidural itself, but the anesthetist injects some of your blood to form a clot to block the hole in the dura.

A blood patch is normally effective within 24 hours, during which time it is recommended that you lie down for as long as possible and avoid any heavy lifting.

NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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