What is an Epidural?

Many women find the pain and exhaustion from labor something less to be desired. Many women who have either gone through one difficult or painful labor, or have never faced childbirth before will opt or end up getting an epidural. Once labor starts to become truly uncomfortable but after it has been established and progressive, many women opt for the pain free childbirth experience.


One of the significant benefits is that the women is fully awake, able to sleep, and perfectly happy while the epidural is working. She is pain free from the waist down. There are no side effects of feeling high or out of control like with some other pain medications.

Also if any complications arise then the epidural is already there in the case of a cesarean section is a medical necessity. All that will be required is more of the analgesia in the tube for the procedure.

Epidural Side Effects

Some possible side effects might be the slowing of the progression of labor. So an IV will be administered just in case pitocin is needed to reactivate a vigorous and useful labor. Headaches and itchiness in the catheter site is also common. Sometimes a burning sensation is felt for several minutes or even hours after the initial injection. With that said most women have little to no problems with the procedure or any side effects.


A large needle with a tube called a catheter is pushed into the epidural space between two of the lumbar vertebrae. The doctor who does this, is specialized in this procedure, and can work with you during contractions if need be. The woman will curl over as if holding her stomach from tummy ache while sitting up or lying on her side. The area is cleansed thoroughly prior to the actual procedure with an antiseptic to prevent germs or infection entering into the spinal column or blood.

A local anesthesia is given to take the edge off the pain of the large needle and catheter entering the spinal column. This is not a pleasant experience and most women find it quite painful. The large needle is removed but the doctor leaves the catheter in to be able to administer medicine as needed to produce the desired effects and get rid of pain.

The doctor will do one of two things, give a one-time shot into the catheter or install a pump to deliver doses as necessary. The pump has many benefits. The women can push a button that delivers medication to stop the pain but is limited to how many doses in a given time can be used. It also doesnt require staying uncomfortable while waiting for the doctor to come back and give another shot.

Some pumps also drip a slow constant stream of medicine to keep the women comfortable with out having to push any button. The only problem with the constant drip is that once pushing needs to begin the medication has not worn off so it can be more difficult.


As far as how effective this is, it totally depends on the type and dosage of medication given. The earlier the epidural happens in the labor process the better it works. The later it occurs the more medication is required to get pain under control and that might not be completely possible if pushing is going to happen soon.

Most doctors like the epidural to wear off a bit before pushing time so the women can feel what she is doing and push effectively. If you reach over 8 centimeters dilation then they wont even give you an epidural for that reason. So, if you want to get one, get it before the pain gets bad and it will be more effective and have fewer consequences.

Most women are fully satisfied with the procedure and effects, and would have one again if they choose to have more children. Others found it did very little for them or had lasting complications. Some complications reported are tingling or numbness in the lower extremities for weeks to months after the birth is over. Some women have even complained of permanent lower body nerve damage and have lost much feeling in various places below the waist. Some women have also reported itchiness and major headaches after and during as well.