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Anesthesia Options for Labor

Anesthesia is a type of medication to prevent pain. It is often used in labor. It may numb only one region of your body. This is called regional anesthesia. Or it may let you sleep during surgery. This is called general anesthesia. Only a trained specialist gives this type of medication. When possible, your doctor will use regional anesthesia. This is so you can be awake during your baby’s birth. The type of anesthetic you have may depend on the hospital guidelines.

Figure of woman; lower half of body is shaded, indicating where a spinal epdiural affects.

Regional Anesthesia

Your doctor may use regional anesthesia to numb your lower body for a vaginal or cesarean birth. It does not go into your bloodstream. This means that little or none of it will reach your baby. There are two kinds:

  • Epidural. This is most often given while you sit up or lie on your side. A needle with a flexible tube (catheter) is put into your lower back. The needle is then removed. The anesthetic is sent through the catheter. A pump may be attached. This gives you a constant level of anesthetic. An epidural often affects only part of your muscle control. This means you should still be able to push for a vaginal birth.

  • Spinal. This is most often given in one dose right before delivery. It acts fast. You may sit up or lie down when it is injected. It may affect muscle control in your lower body. This includes your ability to push.

Woman lying on side, with male partner standing by bed. Woman receiving IV drip.

General Anesthesia

General anesthesia lets you sleep and keeps you free from pain during surgery. Your doctor may use it for a cesarean birth. He or she may give it to you as an injection, as an inhaled gas, or as both. Delivery often occurs before the medication has reached the baby.




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