So you’ve beautifully journeyed through those nine months of pregnancy and now it’s time to bring your little bundle of joy in the world. But while you might be excited to have a baby, you might also feel a little apprehensive about the labor process. Don’t worry—that’s normal. New moms have a lot to decide when it comes to delivering their babies. Whether a natural, vaginal birth is your first choice or you’re an epidural advocate all the way, it’s important to learn about all the options available to you in the delivery room. After all, birthing a baby rarely goes as planned, so learning about your pain management options like an epidural injection may help you feel more prepared.

You may have read every book under the sun on labor and the birthing process, but when the time arrives, even the bravest of the hearts can become feeble, whether or not it’s your first time. Beginning with spotting labor signs, picking up your hospital essentials, keeping calm, and trying very very hard not to freak out, every new symptom can seem critical when rushing to that maternity ward to begin the birthing process.

During this chaotic time, you may experience more discomfort and pain than you might have expected. In the event that your pain becomes too much to bear, take comfort in the fact that you can ask your doctor for an epidural to get some relief. Epidurals are pain medications that are injected into the epidural space in your spine. They help block the transmission of pain impulses in your trunk and lower extremities.

Getting an Epidural: Everything You Need to Know

Dr. Jane Frederick, MD, a specialist in fertility and obstetrics from Orange County, California says, “An epidural is the most popular choice for women to alleviate pain during childbirth. The choice to have an epidural can be planned ahead of time or in some cases last minute.”

How Does an Epidural work?

Wonder how the drug came to be called an epidural? Dr. Edna Ma, a practicing anesthesiologist from California, makes it easy for you to understand. “An ‘epidural’ is simply a space within the body which is located outside the spinal cord, within the bony confines of the spinal canal. The “dura” is the membrane that contains spinal nerves in the spinal cord. Thus an ‘epidural’ is the space above the dura,” she explains.

Dr. David Rivera, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist in Rockford, Illinois, adds, “A labor epidural is a local anesthetic pumped into a catheter inserted into the epidural space. One is not completely paralyzed since the medication doesn’t go into the spinal fluid, although there is enough anesthesia to make one’s legs useless until it wears off. Many hospitals now have patient-controlled epidurals, which allows the mother to control the flow of the pain-relieving drug through the push of a button.”

How Is an Epidural Injected? 

An epidural injection should only be performed by a practicing anesthesiologist. Take a look at the video below from the hit show, The Doctors, to see Dr. Edna demonstrate how an epidural is injected into the appropriate area of the spinal space. Please note that the demonstration uses a dummy for representational purposes only.


Can an Epidural Harm My Baby? Do They Have Any Risks? 

Some women may be more vulnerable to the dangers and side effects of epidurals than others. Dr. Rivera, quickly notes, “Anesthesiologists don’t like doing epidurals in women with clotting problems. Putting an epidural through an infected site is a bad idea. Abnormal anatomy may make inserting an epidural needle/catheter difficult or impossible. An epidural causes the blood pressure to drop and, consequently, the heart tries to compensate by pumping more blood. That is bad when one has restricted heart valves (aortic or mitral stenosis) and can’t accommodate the increased blood flow needed.” So to recap, women with clotting problems, abnormal anatomy, or heart problems may not be the best candidates for this pain management option.

In some cases, an epidural can make it hard for a woman to push out her baby. And in these cases, epidurals can become dangerous to both mother and the infant. At times, vacuum-assisted delivery may be needed to help pull the baby through the birth canal. And vacuum-assisted deliveries come with a whole new set of health risks.

In addition to these risks, some women experience headaches due to a leakage of spinal fluid caused by the epidural injection. Other side effects include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nausea
  • Backaches
  • Soreness near the injection site
  • Shivering

“An epidural is safe for most women, but not all. Some women with existing medical conditions could be put at risk, should they choose to have an epidural. This is the same case for the baby. It’s best to consult with your doctor and discuss the risks before deciding if an epidural is the right choice for you and your baby,” concludes Dr. Frederick.

What Are Some Other Birthing Options?

In this article, you’ve learned what an epidural is, how it is injected into the body, and the risks to you and your baby. Visit this page for more helpful information on choosing the right birth method for you.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Pregnancy & Babycare here.

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