Everything you need to know before getting an Epidural

Everything you need to know before getting an Epidural

Perhaps the greatest source of anxiety of pregnant women is anticipating the pain and discomfort of labor and delivery. It is a fact that childbirth is a painful process. And for many women, particularly first-time mothers, the process of labor can take a long time. This is why many women choose an epidural injection for their labor and delivery. 

An epidural injection is administered during labor, or just before the onset of labor, to ease the pain of childbirth for the mother. People have all kinds of views on the use of an epidural injection. Some people have religious and/or cultural attitudes toward an epidural injection. In any case, the best thing you can do as an expectant mother is to find out the facts about an epidural injection.

It is safe to say that the most important thing for any expectant mother is to deliver a healthy baby and to remain healthy herself. Sometimes, easing the pain of labor and delivery is the best way to attain these goals. An epidural  injection can be the thing that makes it possible for a mother to get through the process in the most comfortable ways. 

What is an epidural? What are the benefits of an epidural? And what are the potential risks of an epidural? This guide will give you the information you need to make the right decision for you when it is time to consider an epidural injection. 

What is an Epidural Injection?

An epidural is a form of anesthesia that provides pain relief during labor and delivery. The procedure involves the injection of an anesthetic near the bottom of the spine. It works by blocking the nerve impulses at the lower back and reduces sensation in the lower part of the body. 

An epidural injection is one example of a medical procedure known as regional anesthesia. Rather than numbing an entire region as is the case of something like novocaine at the dentist, an epidural injection blocks the nerve impulses from reaching the brain so that you cannot feel the pain from a specific region of the body.  

The epidural injection includes the use of local anesthetic drugs. The types of drugs used in an epidural can include things like bupivacaine, or lidocaine—drugs that are far less dangerous than the types of drugs used for something like general anesthesia. 

The purpose of an epidural is to provide pain relief without causing total numbness. An epidural makes it possible to remain comfortable while being completely alert during the birth experience. An epidural is administered by an anesthesiologist who calculates the dose of the anesthesia following your physiological requirements. This reduces any long-term impact on you and your baby. 

Some people can still feel contractions, but the pain of contractions is drastically reduced. This makes it possible to still be able to push during contractions without the debilitating pain that can prevent some women from actually pushing during contractions. 

Epidural Injection Benefits

Epidural Benefits

Pain relief

An epidural is one of the most effective methods for controlling the pain of labor and delivery. It has minimal side effects on both the mother and the baby. An epidural begins working within about 20 minutes, and most women feel little to no pain during their entire labor and delivery. 

Allows a mother to rest

By providing relief from the pain of labor and delivery, a mother can maintain her energy for a long labor. It also allows a mother to feel energized and restored to receive her new baby. 

Can help you stay alert

An epidural relieves you of the pain, but it also allows you to remain alert during labor and delivery. This means you are still able to push and physically respond to the process of delivery. Although the epidural causes numbness, it does not completely disable your body. The remaining alert also allows you to make conscious decisions if something like a C-section becomes necessary. 

May reduce postpartum depression

The evidence on this is still developing, but some research has shown that an epidural may reduce the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. Some of the research suggests that simply knowing you have the option to take an epidural can reduce the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. Simply having the option of being able to manage your pain levels appears to help with postpartum depression. 

You can get an epidural at any time during your labor

One of the great advantages of an epidural is that it can be administered at any point in the labor and delivery process. This means that if you intend to go through the entire process completely naturally, but then develop difficulties at some point along the way, you can still get an epidural to manage the pain. You do not need to decide on an epidural ahead of time. 

An epidural can help with surgical procedures

If the need arises for other surgical procedures such as a C-section, an epidural can help you through this. In the case of a C-section, you will need more of the anesthetic which will lead to complete numbness in the lower part of your body. But the epidural can be used to prepare you for a C-section or other surgical interventions.  

An epidural is medically calculated to reduce or eliminate any effect on your baby. The benefit of an epidural for your baby is that it is a regional anesthetic and only minimal quantities of anesthetic medication circulate in your system. This means your baby is not affected in any adverse ways. 

Types of Epidurals

Types of Epidurals

“Epidural” is a broad term that covers three main procedures. The three types of an epidural include:


An epidural is administered through a catheter into the epidural space of the spinal area. The catheter remains in place in case the doctors need to administer more medication. 

Spinal injection

This is a procedure in which medication is administered directly into the spinal fluid. This can be taken on its own or in conjunction with an epidural. Since it is a single dose, it tends to wear off more quickly. 

Combined spinal-epidural

This is a hybrid of the first two. The combined spinal-epidural is sometimes called a walking epidural since it can make it possible for you to move around after you have had it administered. The combined spinal-epidural requires less medication and leaves you with more feeling and freedom. One of the advantages of the combined spinal-epidural is it offers you the ability to move around and change positions during your labor and delivery. 

Epidural Injection side effects

Epidural side effects

While epidurals have been in use for a long time and are considered safe, there are some potential side effects. Some of these side effects can be quite serious. As with any medical procedure, it is always best to discuss the possibility of an epidural with your doctor, midwife, or other healthcare professional since they will have a solid understanding of your health needs and medical history. 

Side effects from an epidural may include:

Low blood pressure

It is normal for blood pressure to fall a little after getting an epidural. In some cases, the drop in blood pressure can make you feel sick. As with all medical procedures, your blood pressure (and all other vitals) are monitored continuously throughout your labor and delivery to make sure the epidural has not led to an unsafe drop in blood pressure. 

Loss of bladder control

Once you have been given an epidural it can be impossible to feel if your bladder is full. A catheter is usually inserted after an epidural to drain away urine as your bladder fills. 

Itchy skin

A common side effect of the medication in an epidural is itchy skin. Itching is a common side effect of many anesthetic drugs and pain management drugs. This will subside and completely go away as the epidural wears off. 


This is not as common as with some other stronger pain medications like morphine but an epidural can make you feel sick and nauseated. 


If the bag of spinal fluid that surrounds your spine is accidentally punctured, this can cause a severe headache. This generally requires further treatment. 

Slow breathing

In some cases, the medication used in an epidural can cause your breathing to slow down. Your breathing is carefully monitored throughout your labor and delivery to make sure you are safe. 

Temporary nerve damage

This is not common, but the epidural tube can damage nerves. This can lead to a loss of feeling in some parts of your lower body. Again, this is rare. 

More serious side effects and complications:

In rare cases, an epidural can cause permanent nerve damage. This is due to damage to the spinal cord from the epidural needles or the catheter. An epidural can cause an infection in the spinal cord, and this can lead to permanent nerve damage. These are rare events, and anesthetists have extensive training to reduce the chances of these complications. Nerve damage can also happen for other reasons during surgery, which are unrelated to the epidural.

Epidural Risks

In addition to the complications and side effects listed above, an epidural can lead to rare but serious risks. These can include:

  • Fits
  • Convulsions
  • Severe breathing difficulties

Again, these are extremely rare risks. Whenever an epidural is administered there is a trained anesthesiologist present and a doctor will monitor your condition throughout labor and delivery and after to make certain you are healthy and safe. 

Epidural FAQs

What is an epidural? 

An epidural is a form of anesthesia that provides pain relief during labor and delivery. The procedure involves the injection of an anesthetic near the bottom of the spine. It works by blocking the nerve impulses at the lower back and reduces sensation in the lower part of the body. 

What are the benefits of an epidural? 

An epidural will relieve the pain of labor and delivery. It can help you rest so you are refreshed when you meet your new baby. And an epidural can even potentially reduce the risk of postpartum depression. 

Are there different types of epidurals? 

There is an epidural proper, a spinal injection, and a combined epidural-spinal injection. You will go over these options with your doctor to determine which procedure is best for you. 

Are there side effects of an epidural? 

The most common side effects are low blood pressure, low breathing rate, nausea, and numbness. While there are other more serious side effects, these are quite rare. When an epidural is administered, your medical condition is monitored throughout your labor and delivery to ensure your safety and good health. 


Anticipating the birth of your baby is an exciting time. Perhaps the most exciting time in your life. But anticipating labor and delivery can also be a time of tremendous anxiety. Labor and delivery are painful processes and the prospect of going through this can cause some fear and trepidation. 

Thankfully, there are methods of pain management that can get you through labor and delivery with little to no impact on you or your baby. An epidural injection can completely eliminate the pain of labor and delivery. An epidural injection also has minimal negative or long-lasting effects. 

One of the other great advantages of an epidural injection is it can be administered at any point in your labor and delivery. Many women go into childbirth to go through the process without any medically administered pain management. But during labor, difficulties arise and women need to rest or need assistance with getting through the rest of the process. An epidural injection can be administered at any point to help you get through your labor and delivery. 

While no part of childbirth should be taken lightly, you should discuss the option of an epidural injection with your doctor or midwife. They can help you assess your medical condition and your potential needs during labor and delivery.