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General Anesthesia for Childbirth

General anesthesia medications can be inhaled or injected into a vein. They affect your entire body, making you unconscious. General anesthesia also causes forgetfulness (amnesia) and relaxation of the muscles throughout your body. Under anesthesia, you should be completely unaware and should not feel pain during childbirth. Although general anesthesia takes effect much faster than epidural or spinal anesthesia, it has more risks. General anesthesia is therefore rarely used during childbirth. It is generally used when an emergency cesarean delivery is necessary and an epidural catheter, which can provide numbing anesthesia from the waist down, has not been installed in advance.

General anesthesia is commonly started through a vein (intravenous anesthetic), but it may also be inhaled (inhalation anesthetic). Once you are unconscious, anesthesia may be maintained with an inhalant anesthetic alone, with one or more intravenous anesthetics, or a combination of the two.

General anesthesia slows many of your body’s normal automatic functions, such as those that control breathing, heartbeat, circulation of the blood (such as blood pressure), movements of the digestive system, and throat reflexes such as swallowing, coughing, or gagging that prevent foreign material from being inhaled into your lungs (aspiration). Because anesthesia has such a powerful influence on your body, an anesthesia specialist must carefully maintain a balance of medications while monitoring your heart, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital functions. A tube inserted into the nose or mouth and into the windpipe, or trachea (called an endotracheal, or ET, tube), or a shorter tube with a mask inserted as far as the larynx (laryngeal mask airway) is usually used to give an inhalant anesthetic and oxygen, to control and assist breathing. An ET tube is used to prevent breathing in stomach acid, which would damage the lungs.

How quickly you recover from general anesthesia depends on the dose of medication you received, your body's response to it, and whether you received other medications that may prolong your recovery. As you begin to awaken from general anesthesia, you may experience some confusion, disorientation, or difficulty thinking clearly. This is normal. It is also fairly common to have nausea, vomiting, or a slightly lowered body temperature. It may take some time before the effects of the anesthesia are completely gone.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last RevisedNovember 2, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 02, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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