Obstetric Anesthesia

Our collaborative care team model ensures that every woman receives exceptional and compassionate care during labor and delivery.

About Obstetric Anesthesia for Labor and Delivery

There are several options for relieving pain when a patient goes into labor.  Intravenous medications may be used early in labor since they can affect both the mother and baby’s respiratory drive.  Epidural anesthesia is the most common and effective form of pain relief.  This form of regional anesthesia reduces the sharp pains of contraction to a pressure sensation.  An epidural catheter is placed in a sterile fashion in the patient’s lumbar spine so that continuous medication can be administered.  This form of anesthesia allows for minimal effects to the baby.  The epidural catheter is removed after delivery.
For cesarean sections, patients will usually receive spinal anesthesia.  This is a form of regional anesthesia that provides a dense motor and sensory block for surgery.  A single dose of medication is placed in the lumbar spine in a sterile fashion.  For patients that have contraindications to regional anesthesia, general anesthesia may be used.  This form of anesthesia requires the patient to be completely asleep during the cesarean section. If a patient already has a functioning epidural catheter, more medication can be added to convert to surgical anesthesia. 

Frequently Asked Questions from our Labor & Delivery Patients

Will I feel any pain with an epidural? Does it wear off?

Patients have different pain thresholds. The epidural converts sharp pains of the contractions to pressure. As the baby continues to descend the birth canal, more pressure can be felt. This pressure can be perceived as pain to some patients. The epidural pump is continuously giving medication, but as labor progresses, you may need additional medication. Most pumps have a button you can press to give yourself additional medication. The epidural does not wear off, but may feel so as you get closer to delivering.

Does the epidural negatively affect my baby?

Very minimal, if any, medication reaches the baby. The epidural may lower the mother’s blood pressure so that the blood flow to the baby can be decreased. The baby may display temporary signs of distress, but this can be easily rectified by medications that normalize the mother’s blood pressure. This is why it is very important to monitor the mother’s blood pressure after receiving an epidural.

What are other risks for spinal or epidural anesthesia?

There are minimal risks for spinal and epidural anesthesia. The procedure is placed in a sterile fashion to reduce the risk for infection. Lab values are checked prior to placement to reduce the risk of bleeding and hematoma. There is a minimal risk for a spinal headache (post-dural puncture headache) which can be treated.

What if I have scoliosis? Any back surgery?

If you have not had surgery for your scoliosis, you may not have any issues. Scoliosis can make the epidural placement more challenging and therefore we suggest that you ask for it earlier, rather than later, as it is more difficult to stay in proper position when you are having painful contractions. Once the epidural is placed, it may be one-sided. Our physicians aim to increase the effectiveness of the epidural, but at times, another one may need to be placed. Please be patient. If you have had surgery, please notify your obstetrician so that we can contact you directly about your options. Knowledge of the type of surgery and levels involved will be very helpful.

Will I become paralyzed from the spinal or epidural?

It is extremely rare to become paralyzed from a spinal or epidural. We place the spinal and epidural below where spinal cord ends.

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