Epidural anesthesia is a form of regional anesthesia that is commonly and safely used in pregnancy for decades. It is very safe for both mother and baby, and it involves an anesthesiologist expertly placing a needle in the epidural space and delivering medicine through a thin plastic catheter that stays in for the entire labor, and in cases of c-section may remain in for days to provide post operative pain control.
The goal of the epidural is to provide sensory blockade from pain but not motor blockade so that the patient can still move their legs and feel the urge to push and effectively push when the time comes. It provides excellent anesthesia for labor as well as vaginal, operative vaginal delivery or c-section without giving general anesthesia which would affect the baby.
The risk of the epidural is a 1/200 chance of a spinal headache if the dura is punctured. Usually the anesthesiologist will be aware of the patient at risk, and if the headache occurs it can be easily remedied with a blood patch (a tube of blood is drawn from the patients arm and injected into the patients back). Patients are often worried about becoming paralyzed from the epidural which is not really a significant risk because the epidural is placed in a location that is below the level of where the spinal cord ends. Having a “high spinal” where breathing is hampered and temporary intubation is needed is rare.
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