Labor & Delivery Anesthesia

Labor & Delivery AnesthesiaThe birthing experience isn't the same for all women. For some, focused breathing is all they need to get through labor; for others, numbing of the pain is required.

It is important that you learn about the various pain relief options available to women for childbirth. You should discuss your options with your obstetrical care team prior to your estimated due date.

Click on the questions to reveal answers.

Q: What pain relief medications are available to decrease pain during contractions? [+/-]

  • Local anesthesia may be used by your doctor during delivery to numb a painful area or after delivery if stitches are necessary. It is important to note that local anesthetic medications do not reduce discomfort during labor.

  • Regional anesthesia, also called an epidural, spinal anesthesia or spinal-epidural, is administered by a member of the anesthesia care team during labor to reduce discomfort. With both epidural and spinal anesthesia, medication is provided near the nerves in your lower back to block pain in a wide region of your body while you remain conscious. Regional anesthesia greatly reduces pain during the birthing process. It can also be used if a birth by Caesarean section becomes necessary.

  • Also, pain-relieving medications can be injected into a vein or muscle to dull labor discomfort. These medications do not completely cease the pain, but they do lessen it. As these pain-relieving medications can affect your entire body and cause drowsiness in you and your baby, they are mainly used during early labor to help you rest and conserve your energy.

Q: What if I need a Caesarean section (C-section)? [+/-]

General anesthesia can put you to sleep during this process. (Although sometimes necessary, general anesthesia is rarely used because it prevents you from seeing your child immediately after birth.)

Q: What's the difference between an epidural and spinal anesthesia? [+/-]

During an epidural, medication is placed outside the dura, which surrounds the spinal cord. With spinal anesthesia, medication is placed inside the dura.

Q: How is regional anesthesia given during labor and childbirth? [+/-]

If you request regional anesthesia, you may receive an epidural or spinal anesthesia, or a combination of the two. Your health care provider will select the type of regional anesthesia based on the progress of your labor and after consulting with your obstetrical care team.

After reviewing your medical history, a member of the anesthesia team will numb an area on your lower back. The anesthesiologist will then insert a special needle into the numb area in order to find the exact location to inject the anesthetic medication. After injecting the medication, the anesthesiologist will remove the needle. (In most cases, a tiny plastic tube called an epidural catheter stays in place after the needle is removed to deliver medications as needed throughout labor.) The procedure can be done while you are either sitting up or lying on your side.

Q: How soon can I get regional anesthesia during labor? [+/-]

The appropriate time to administer regional anesthesia will depend on the mother and baby’s response to labor. Your obstetrical team, working in conjunction with your anesthesia team, will determine the best time for you to receive the anesthesia.

Q: Will the anesthesia affect my baby? [+/-]

No. Considerable research has shown that regional anesthesia, both epidural and spinal, is safe for you and your baby.

Q: How long does it take for anesthesia to work and how long will it last? [+/-]

An epidural starts working 10 to 20 minutes after the medication has been injected. Pain relief from epidural anesthesia lasts as long as you needed, since medication can always be given through the catheter.

Spinal anesthesia starts working immediately after the medication has been injected. Pain relief lasts about two and a half hours. If your labor is expected to last beyond this time, an epidural catheter may be inserted to deliver medications to continue your pain relief for as long as needed.

Q: Will I feel any discomfort after receiving the anesthesia? [+/-]

Although you will feel significant pain relief after receiving anesthesia, you may still feel pressure from your contractions. In addition, you may feel pressure when your obstetric care provider examines you.

Q: Will regional anesthesia slow my labor? [+/-]

No. In some women, labor and contractions may slow after regional anesthesia for a short period of time, but on average labor duration is unaffected. Most women find that regional anesthesia helps them to relax and actually improves their contraction pattern while allowing them to rest.

Q: If I have regional anesthesia, will I be able to push? [+/-]

Regional anesthesia allows you to rest comfortably while your cervix dilates. In most cases, it should not affect your ability to push; instead, it will make pushing more comfortable for you.

Q: Are there any side effects to regional anesthesia? [+/-]

Your anesthesiologist takes special precautions to prevent complications. Although complications are rare, some side effects may include:

  • Decreased blood pressure - You will receive intravenous fluids and your blood pressure will be carefully monitored; drops in blood pressure are routine and easily treated with medication.

  • Mild itching during labor (if itching becomes bothersome, advise your anesthesiologist)

  • Headache - Headaches are common after childbirth and are rarely caused by regional anesthesia. If a headache persists, tell your health care provider.

  • A negative reaction to your local anesthetic - While local anesthetic reactions are rare, be sure to tell your anesthesia care team member if you become dizzy or develop ringing in your ears so that he or she can quickly treat the problem.

Q: What's right for you? [+/-]

The birthing process is unique to each individual woman. While some women need little or no pain relief, others find that pain relief gives them better control over labor and delivery. You have to decide what works best for you and your body. Don’t be afraid to ask for pain relief if you need it. Be sure to speak with your obstetrical and anesthesia care teams about your options.

The above information is provided by North American Partners in Anesthesia (NAPA). Founded in 1986, NAPA is the leading single specialty anesthesia management company in the United States. To learn more, visit: