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Epidural FAQ

What is an epidural?

An epidural is a tiny catheter placed near the spinal cord to help relieve the pain of labor.

At Intermountain Medical Center, there is an anesthesiologist on the labor and delivery floor seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. You are welcome to get one anytime during your labor as there is no minimum dilation to reach. The only time it’s too late to get one is if your baby is coming out! Keep in mind it takes 20 minutes for it reach its full effect, so if you are too close to the end, you may not get much benefit from it.

The benefit is that it can provide pain relief for as long as you need it. Epidurals are very safe, though sometimes you can get a brief drop in your blood pressure or a headache the next day. A major advantage to having an epidural is being able to rest during your labor. A disadvantage for using an epidural is not being able to stay active and move around during and right after labor and it may cause you to have difficulty pushing.

There are two types of epidurals according to the American Pregnancy Association:

Regular Epidural

After the catheter is in place, a combination of narcotic and anesthesia is administered either by a pump or by periodic injections into the epidural space. A narcotic such as fentanyl or morphine is given to replace some of the higher doses of anesthetic, like bupivacaine, chloroprocaine, or lidocaine.

This helps reduce some of the adverse effects of the anesthesia. You will want to ask about your hospital’s policies about staying in bed and eating.

Combined Spinal-Epidural (CSE) or “Walking Epidural”

A spinal block is sometimes used in combination with an epidural during labor to provide immediate pain relief. A spinal block, like an epidural, involves an injection in the lower back. While you sit or lie on your side in bed, a small amount of medication is injected into the spinal fluid to numb the lower half of the body. It brings good relief from pain and starts working quickly, but it lasts only an hour or two and is usually given only once during labor. The epidural provides continued pain relief after the spinal block wears off.

Talk to your doctor if you have other questions!


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