Tori's Blog

Pain Medications for Labor and Birth

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Many types of medication can ease pain during labor and delivery. Here is a brief outline of the most common types of medication offered.

Epidural block – An epidural block is a regional analgesic or anesthetic that can be used during active labor. The medication is injected into the lower back just outside the sac of spinal fluid. It takes about 20 minutes to administer an epidural block and another 10 to 20 minutes for the medication to take effect.

An epidural alleviates most pain in the lower body without significantly slowing labor. It can be used continuously throughout labor. You’ll remain awake and alert. A walking epidural — a combination of an epidural and a spinal injection that leaves you enough muscle strength to walk during labor — is available in some facilities. An epidural block usually has little or no effect on the baby.

One side of your body may become more numb than the other. This is generally correctable by either adjusting the medication or repeating the procedure. IV fluids are used to maintain a normal blood pressure. Because epidural anesthesia may block the ability to empty your bladder, you may need a catheter.

Spinal block – Spinal anesthesia is a regional anesthetic used during active labor if delivery is expected within two hours or shortly before a C-section. The medication is injected into the lower back, directly into the spinal fluid sac.

A spinal block provides complete pain relief from the abdomen or chest down for up to two hours. The medication is usually given only once. You’ll remain awake and alert and will not get out of bed once you receive the medication. The side effects are the same as with an epidural. Rarely, you may have a severe headache when you’re upright in the days after delivery.

Narcotics – Various narcotics may be injected into a muscle in your buttock or given through an intravenous (IV) catheter. If you have an IV, you may be able to control your dosage. The medication takes effect in minutes. Narcotics decrease the perception of pain for two to six hours. They promote rest without causing muscle weakness.

Local anesthetic injection – A local anesthetic doesn’t help with labor pain but may be used to numb the vaginal area if you need an incision to extend the opening of the vagina (episiotomy) or repair a tear after delivery. The medication is injected into tissue at the vaginal opening and takes effect quickly. A pudendal block is injected directly into the vaginal wall. Local anesthetics temporarily relieve pain in a specific area. There are generally no negative effects for mom or baby.

Your own practitioner may offer specific medications so be sure to ask what your options are likely to be.

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