An epidural block is a numbing medicine given by injection (shot) in the back. It numbs or causes a loss of feeling in the lower half your body. This lessens the pain of contractions during childbirth. An epidural block may also be used to reduce pain during surgery on the lower extremities. This article focuses on epidural blocks during childbirth.
The block or shot is given into an area over your lower back or spine.
Your doctor will wash the area of your back and inject a little medicine to numb the spot where the epidural needle is placed:
The numbing medicine is given through the tube for as long as it is needed.
Usually, you will receive a low dose because it is safer for you and baby. Once the medicine takes effect (10 to 20 minutes), you should feel better. You may still feel some back or rectal pressure during contractions.
You may shiver after an epidural, but this is common. Many women shiver during labor even without an epidural.
Many studies have shown that an epidural is a safe way to manage pain during childbirth. While rare, there are some risks.
Your blood pressure may drop for a short while. This might cause the baby's heart rate to slow down.
An epidural block may change or alter labor and delivery.
Other rare side effects are:
There are two types:
Grigg PW. Epidural Anesthesia and Analgesia. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 3.
Nathan N, Wong CA. Spinal, Epidural, and Caudal Anesthesia. In: Chestnut DH, Wong CA, Tsen LC, et al, eds. Chestnut's Obstetric Anesthesia: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 12.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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