Didn't Feel A Thing

Among the various medical means of relieving the pain of labor and childbirth, epidural anesthesia is by far the most popular. Half of all women who have their babies in the hospital are using this form of anesthesia. The process of educating yourself about labor and delivery would not be complete without a discussion of the epidural. Knowing as much as you can about giving birth is the best way to ensure that when the time comes, you'll be able to make proper, informed decisions with little or no stress or concern.

The epidural is a type of local anesthesia that can block the pain at specific points in the body. The aim of this type of anesthesia is to give you relief from pain rather than take away all feeling. In this case, the epidural blocks the nerve impulses in the area of the lower spine. This means that there is less feeling in the lower half of your body.  

Epidural anesthesia makes use of a combination of local anesthetics such as lidocaine along with opioids or narcotics like fentanyl. By using opioids, the anesthesiologist can use a smaller amount of local anesthesia, which means fewer side effects for the patient. A third drug may be added to this cocktail to prolong the effectiveness of the anesthesia or perhaps another drug to stabilize the blood pressure of the laboring mother.

Hold Still!

Prior to inserting the epidural line, the mother-to-be is given fluids by IV and continues to receive intravenous fluids all during her labor and delivery. In total, she receives 1-2 liters. The epidural line is placed by a nurse-anesthetist, obstetrician, or anesthesiologist. The patient lies on her side and hugs her knees to her chest while arching her back. It is important to lie still at this time. The back is rubbed with antiseptic solution which may feel cold. A local anesthetic is injected into the back so as to numb the area before the epidural is inserted.

The patient is now ready for epidural placement. A needle is inserted into the numbed area around the spinal cord in the woman's lower back. Next, a small catheter is threaded into the needle and on through into the epidural area. The needle is then removed with much care and the catheter is left in place.

Medication can be administered via the catheter in injections as needed, or by a process of continuous infusion. The catheter will be taped to the back to prevent the possibility of slippage.

Many Benefits

The benefits of epidural anesthesia are many:

*The cessation of pain allows the mother to rest during a prolonged labor process

*Removing pain from the equation makes the birth experience a positive one

*The mother remains alert and active throughout the entire birth

*Sometimes speeds up the birth process since the mother is pain-free and therefore more relaxed