An epidural is a regional anaesthetic that blocks the nerve impulses from a certain level in your spine down. Nerve complexes travel from the spinal cord to areas in the body transmitting sensations. An epidural blocks that message, meaning that you won’t be able to feel anything from the level the epidural is given. In labour, the epidural relieves the pain from the top of the fundus (top part of the uterus) down.
What to expect with an epidural
- Having an epidural can cause a sudden drop in your blood pressure. This may result in you feeling a little nauseous or shaky. Your blood pressure will be monitored closely throughout the procedure. Your doctor will give additional medication to relieve any side-effects you may experience.
- You can expect to be pretty pain free once the epidural is in place. You may feel tightening in the abdomen as the uterus contracts but there should be little pain.
- You are not able to move around because, as well as taking away sensation from the uterus, your lower extremities will also be numb.
- A monitor will be used to monitor your contractions and the baby’s heart rate.
- You will need to have a urinary catheter inserted to empty the bladder as you won’t be able to feel to pass urine or be able to get up to go to the toilet.
Making the most of your epidural
If you are planning on having an epidural make sure the staff in the hospital are aware of your birthing plan. There is no specific time limit on when you can have an epidural.
Try to relax throughout the procedure. The anaesthetist will talk you through what is happening. Take some deep breaths and relax. The doctor will try to time the procedure between contractions as it is not easy to sit still.
If you are feeling any side effects like nausea or shakiness, let the doctor know. Your blood pressure and other vitals will be monitored throughout the procedure. If the pain starts to creep back, speak up. The epidural is attached to an infusion pump where the rate can be increased or decreased as needed.
As you are now bed bound and basically immobile, the midwife will help you into a good upright position to encourage the baby to move down the birth canal.
With an epidural you don’t always feel the deep urge to bear down or push. As you approach being fully dilated, it can help to turn the epidural infusion down so you are able to feel the sensation of needing to push. Being fully numb can result in a prolonged pushing phase. There is also an increased need for possible birth interventions such as vacuum or forceps.
Pippa is a Registered Professional Nurse and trained as a Registered Midwife at Chris Hani Baragwanth Hospital. She has extensive experience in all things baby related with a special interest in preparing couples for the exciting journey of parenthood as well as supporting them in the weeks that follow the birth. She and her husband Richard are the proud parents of Becca age 6 and Tom age 4. Pippa has a comprehensive private clinic service that includes Childbirth Education classes, a Well Baby Clinic including Immunization as well as Post Natal and Lactation support. With over 5 years of running a private clinic facility and raising 2 children Pippa comes with a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience of parenthood. Learn more about Pippa Hime