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Your guide to epidurals

An epidural is a form of local anaesthesia that can help you manage the pain of childbirth. An epidural is probably the most popular form of labor pain management, as the majority of women in many areas elect to take the medication.

How is an epidural administered?

An epidural is usually only administered once active labor has begun (healthcare providers look for 4 or 5 cm dilation), and this is normally a painless procedure. First an epidural needle is used to access the epidural space, and then a catheter is threaded into this needle and into the epidural space. After this, the needle is removed, and the catheter stays in place and is taped down, allowing you to move comfortably. Healthcare providers then dispense medication as you need it.

Are there any risks involved?

Research on epidural use during delivery is pretty slim, but there has not been any indication of any serious risks of side effects for you or Baby. Women who deliver with an epidural may sometimes have to push for longer, which could contribute to a problem for Baby if there are other contributing factors as well.

Women with low blood pressure, blood infections, or low platelet counts should also not receive an epidural during labor, due to possible health risks. There is also some risk of injury or infection.

The bottom line

Although some women have questions about the safety of epidurals vs. natural births, the bottom line is that the prevalence with which they are used in many areas coupled with the competency of the healthcare providers administering them make epidurals generally safe, but as with any medical procedure, there are risks. Make sure you ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • DJ Baumgarder, P Muehl, M Fischer, B Pribbenow. "Effect of labor epidural anesthesia on breast-feeding of healthy full-term newborns delivered vaginally." The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 16(1):7-13. Web. January-February 2003.
  • Committee on Obstetric Practice. "Analgesia and Cesarean Delivery Rates: Committe Opinion Number 339." ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 6/6/2015. Web.
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