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  Pregnancy eMagazine

Epidurals for pain management

Labor is different for every woman, and so is the way each woman experiences pain. Your decision about how to control pain during labor should be based on your personal feelings and on discussions with your doctor.

Epidurals are one of the most common types of pain relief used by women in labor.
Medical drawing of the spinal column and the epidural space between the spinal cord and the vertebra.

How epidurals are given

Epidurals are given through a catheter placed between the vertebrae in your lower back. To administer the epidural, an anesthesiologist will ask you either to lie curled on your side or to sit on the side of the bed. The injection site will be numbed, the catheter inserted and the epidural medicine given through the catheter.

Benefits of epidurals

  • Epidurals relieve pain from below the breasts to mid thighs.
  • You can remain alert as your birth progresses.
  • You can rest between contractions, which might give you more energy when it’s time to push.

Disadvantages of epidurals

  • You'll have an IV throughout your labor and birth.
  • Your blood pressure will be checked frequently, and some patients' blood pressure drops from the epidural medicine.
  • Some women have trouble pushing due to lack of sensation. This situation is managed by watching the contraction monitor and having the mother begin to push as the contractions begins to show on the monitor.
  • In very few cases, women who receive epidurals get bad headaches.
  • Some women experience nausea.

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Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond

First published: 03/07/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD,Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic