Program Teasers - When Things Don't Go To Plan (Medical Pain Relief)
Understanding epidurals

When Things Don't Go To Plan (Medical Pain Relief)


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Understanding epidurals

So what exactly is an epidural? 

An epidural is a procedure that injects a local anaesthetic into the space around the spinal nerves in your lower back. This anaesthetic usually blocks the pain from labour contractions and during the birth very effectively. It numbs the sensations in the lower body so you can't feel contractions but still allows you to push your baby out when needed (in some cases, however, assistance is needed for pushing).

An epidural is administered by an anaesthetist and it can take between 5 to 30 minutes for it to take effect. To ensure that the needle is inserted at the right place you can sit up and bend forward over a pillow, or lie on your side curled up into a ball; you will also be asked to stay still.

To begin the process fluids are often administered to the mother via an IV in case there is a drop in blood pressure or if you need extra fluids. The lower back will be washed with cold antiseptic and a small amount of local anaesthetic will be injected into the skin of the lower back to numb the area that the epidural will be placed. A needle is inserted between the bones of the spine into the space around the spinal nerves. The anaesthetist will insert the epidural needle during the space of time between contractions so it is important that you communicate clearly with your medical team during this process. A small soft plastic tube will be inserted and the needle will be removed; this tube delivers the anaesthetic that will numb your pain. An epidural can be topped up every few hours as the anaesthetic wears off.

As with any pain relief method or medical intervention, epidurals have pros and cons that need to be weighed up against your birth plan and birth goals. We look at some of the general considerations when it comes to drugs and labour in this article.

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