Everyone’s pregnancy experience differs, so knowing your options can help you finalize your birth plan and prepare for labor. One standard medical pain relief option is an epidural.

Another pain management option is a spinal block, which involves injecting medication into the fluid around your spinal cord. Both are effective in providing significant pain relief, but each has its unique side effects.

How Epidurals Work

In an epidural, pain medicine goes into your body through a small tube placed in your back. The tube is called a catheter, and it’s connected to a pump that allows your healthcare provider to release doses of pain medicine when you press a button.

Your healthcare provider will use a small needle to insert the epidural catheter. They will first clean the area and then inject local anesthesia to numb the area around the needle.

Once the epidural is in place, you should feel numb within 10-20 minutes. You will still feel pressure from contractions, but you won’t feel the pain.

Your healthcare provider might also attach the epidural catheter to a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump that will allow you to control your pain medication with the press of a button. This can help your pain relief last as long as you need it. Your healthcare provider might also add vasoconstrictors to your epidural to counteract the effects of the anesthetic on your blood pressure.

Epidural Side Effects

An epidural can make you feel numb or weak in your legs. The numbness may last a few hours, and you must stay in bed as the medication wears off. Your provider will administer more doses if necessary.


These medications belong to a class of drugs called local anesthetics (bupivacaine, chloroprocaine, and lidocaine). They can be given by themselves or in combination with opioids and narcotics like sufentanil and morphine.

Sometimes, as Dr. Jason Campbell said, epidurals cause a low heart rate in newborns, which can affect their breathing and oxygen levels. This can lead to a condition called respiratory depression, which may be mild or severe and may get worse over time. Rarely, epidurals can cause blood clots to form in the space around the spinal cord. These can be serious and must be treated right away. They can also cause a slow or difficult breathing pattern in the mother, which must be treated immediately. This can be dangerous for both the mother and baby.

Epidural Advantages

Epidurals can help with pain management, but they’re not the only choice for labor and delivery. Talk to your doctor about which pain control method is suitable for you and your baby.

With an epidural, the anesthetic medicine goes into your body through a tube in your back called a catheter. The catheter is connected to a small pump that gives you a continuous flow of the medication. You can still move around, walk, turn your head, and change positions, but the anesthetic doesn’t affect your breathing or heart rate.

Studies have shown that epidurals don’t slow down the baby’s arrival and don’t have any long-term disadvantages for women. They also cause fewer side effects than opioids. However, there is a risk of a fever with epidurals, and they can sometimes make it difficult to urinate. That’s why you might need a urinary catheter to help you urinate. You might also need a blood pressure cuff around your arm to monitor your blood pressure.

Epidural Alternatives

Several pain management techniques are available to pregnant women. Some involve injections, like trigger point injections, epidural steroid injections, or spinal anesthesia. These techniques are typically performed under X-ray for safety and accuracy.


An anesthesiologist will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area in your back where the epidural will be placed (you’ll feel a pinch). Then, they will place a small tube, called an epidural catheter, into your lower back. The catheter is connected to a pump that delivers pain medicine to you throughout labor.

This type of anesthesia affects only the lower half of your body and has fewer side effects than other forms of pain medication. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that epidurals do fail for some women. And some women need extra painkillers, even if they have an epidural. This might be because the epidural doesn’t block all of their pain or because it causes low blood pressure.