The thought of giving birth is intimidating. We have seen plenty of depictions of painful deliveries with screaming, crying and fainting partners. Labour can be painful but of course every delivery is different and people experience varying degrees of pain.

To combat the pain, many women opt for an epidural anaesthesia during childbirth. An epidural isn’t necessarily for everyone but the vast majority of women rely on it to ease the agony. It doesn’t go straight into the blood stream, which makes it safer for the baby. 

An epidural is injected into a pocket near the spinal cord called the lumbar epidural space and the lower body will be numbed from any pain. It is often combined with narcotics to increase pain relief and decrease the amount of anaesthesia required.  An Anaesthesiologist will insert a large needle into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord and use it to thread a small catheter into the area.

There is a limited window which you can get an epidural. The doctor will want to wait until the cervix is already dilated to 4 - 5 centimetres otherwise an  earlier epidural may slow down the labour process. If you are already fully dilated, it’s too late. Once the epidural is in its place, it can take anywhere from about 10 minutes to half an hour to kick in.

The biggest epidural benefit is definitely the pain relief. In addition, it will allow you to awake and alert in case you need a C-section. After an epidural injection, your lower body is technically temporarily paralyzed and you cannot move as comfortable as you’d wish. You may also experience numbness a few hours after birth.

An epidural can also prolong labour since it interferes with normal urge to push which can lead to more medical interventions such as forceps or C-sections. If you are unable to push, you may need a dose of oxytocin to induce contractions. Your blood pressure may also drop suddenly which can add stress for both you and baby so you will need to have frequent blood pressure checks and constant monitoring of the baby’s vitals.

Epidurals have not been found to have any long term effects on the body but some cases, an underlying health condition makes an epidural dangerous or impossible. If you have low blood pressure or a bleeding disorder, an epidural injection may compromise your health. You should not have an epidural if you are allergic to any type of anaesthesia. If you are unable to have an epidural injection, consult the advice of your doctor on other options.