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Health & Pregnancy

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How Will You Handle Your Labor Pain?

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What Is the Difference Between an Epidural and Spinal Anesthesia?

With a spinal, the medication is injected inside the dura, the tough coating surrounding the brain and spinal cord. During an epidural, medication is put inside the spinal column just outside the sac that surrounds the spinal cord.

A spinal requires less medicine and works faster than an epidural. But it is more likely to cause a headache or low blood pressure.

How Is Regional Anesthesia Given During Labor and Childbirth?

If you request regional anesthesia, you may receive epidural or spinal anesthesia or a combination of the two. Your health care provider will select the type based on your general health and the progress of your labor.

After reviewing your medical history, the anesthesiologist will numb an area on your lower back with a local anesthetic. The anesthesiologist will then insert a special needle into the numb area to find the exact location to inject the anesthetic medication. After injecting the medication, the anesthesiologist will remove the needle. In most cases, a tiny plastic tube called an epidural catheter stays in place after the needle is removed to deliver medications as needed throughout labor.

The procedure can be done while you are either sitting up or lying on your side.

How Soon Can I Get Regional Anesthesia During Labor?

The best time to administer regional anesthesia varies depending on you and your baby's response to labor. Your health care provider will determine the best time for you to receive it.

Will the Anesthesia Affect My Baby?

Research has shown that regional anesthesia -- both epidural and spinal -- is safe for you and your baby.

How Long Does It Take for Anesthesia to Work, and How Long Will It Last?

An epidural starts working 10 to 20 minutes after the medication has been injected. Pain relief from epidural anesthesia lasts as long as you need it because medication can always be given through the catheter.

Spinal anesthesia starts working immediately after the medication has been injected. Pain relief lasts about 2 1/2 hours. If your labor is expected to last beyond this time, an epidural catheter will be inserted to deliver medications to continue your pain relief as long as needed.

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