A guide to epidurals

By December 4, 2019Obstetrics

When it comes to giving birth, it is very typical to feel nervous about the pain that you might experience. For those who are exceptionally nervous, they may want to receive an epidural.

So what is an epidural, how is the procedure performed and are there any risks involved? Read our guide to find out.

What is an epidural?

An epidural is a procedure that involves an anaesthetist injecting a local anaesthetic into the area around the spinal nerves in your lower back. This anaesthetic is injected to block the pain you experience during labour contractions and of course, during the birth and will minimise pain very effectively. After receiving an epidural, you will still be able to move and push your baby out when you need to.

The procedure

You usually only have an epidural during the first stage of labour – but it can be given at any stage of labour. Furthermore, it can take between 5 and 30 minutes for your pain to be relieved by the epidural.

Before an epidural, you will usually have a drip for fluids put into your arm. You can choose to sit up and bend forward over a pillow, or lie on your side, curled up into a ball. Your lower back will be washed with cold antiseptic. A small amount of local anaesthetic will be injected into the skin of your lower back. A needle will be inserted between the bones of your spine into the space around your spinal nerves. Your anaesthetist will insert the epidural needle when your contraction stops.
A small soft plastic tube will be inserted, and the needle will be removed. That tube delivers the anaesthetic that will numb your pain.

Benefits of an epidural

There are a number of benefits to an epidural which you may take advantage of. They include:

  • They deliver very effective pain relief
  • They are generally a very safe procedure
  • You can still move around and push the baby when you need to
  • if you’re having a caesarean, you can stay awake, and your partner can be there with you

It is important to note, however, that not all women can receive an epidural for medical reasons. 

Risks and side effects

An epidural is effective and fairly safe. However, it is crucial to consider the possible risks and side effects.

  • A small number of women get little or no pain relief.
  • Some women get weakness in the legs; it wears off after a few hours.
  • There is an increased risk of needing forceps or a vacuum to help with the birth.
  • Some women develop a bad headache 24 to 48 hours after an epidural.
  • There is a small chance of developing a skin infection.
  • Very rarely a few women get permanent nerve damage.

While it is ultimately your choice as to whether you receive an epidural or not, it is always a good idea to discuss your options with a health care professional. If you have any questions regarding epidurals, or would like to book an appointment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted obstetricians in Sydney and will be thrilled to give you complete and compassionate care in every way possible.