Epidurals: For or against? - advantages and disadvantages of epidurals as pain relief during labour

What does an epidural involve?
In this article
What does an epidural involve?

An epidural is a local anaesthetic administered during childbirth. It blocks the pain caused by the uterus contracting during labour.

How is it administered?
A pain-relief product is injected into the spine by an anaesthetist. Administration of the epidural may take up to half an hour and, depending on the hospital policy, your partner might have to leave the room during this time.

You will lie on your side or sit on the edge of the bed so the doctor can locate the exact spot to inject. The area is disinfected and anaesthetised.

The doctor will then insert a long needle between two vertebra, when it is essential that you remain absolutely still. You might feel electrical sensations in your legs or back but they won't last and your legs may feel heavy too.
The doctor also inserts a catheter, a very thin tube which enables the anaesthetic to be administered. It is in place for the whole duration of labour. If there is still too much pain, it's possible to administer more anaesthetic.

The catheter can also be used to administer anaesthetic in the event of an unexpected Caesarean. It takes effect in about 30 minutes.

You cannot be given an epidural if:
  • you have an infection at the site of insertion
  • your temperature is above 38°C
  • you have a clotting disorder or slipped disc.
Image:© Digital Vision

With thanks to the mums who shared their experiences, and to midwives Florence Charre and Maïtie Trelaun.  
Parenting Editor
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