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How does a spinal block work during labor and delivery?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

A spinal block involves the injection of a narcotic or anesthetic directly into the spinal fluid, at the base of the spine. It provides pain relief to the lower body while the patient remains awake and alert. It is usually given during active labor or just prior to a cesarean birth. The pain relief effects of a spinal block begin immediately and last for approximately 2 hours.

A spinal block -- like an epidural block -- is an injection in the lower back. While you sit or lie on your side in bed, a small amount of medication is injected into the spinal fluid to numb the lower half of the body. It brings good relief from pain and starts working fast, but it lasts only an hour or two.

A spinal block can be given using a much thinner needle than an epidural block in the same place on the back where an epidural block is placed. The spinal block uses a much smaller dose of the drug, and it is injected into the sac of spinal fluid below the level of the spinal cord. Once this drug is injected, pain relief occurs right away.

A spinal block usually is given only once during labor, so it is best suited for pain relief during delivery. A spinal block with a much stronger medication (anesthetic, not analgesic) is often used for a cesarean delivery. It also can be used in a vaginal birth if the baby needs to be helped out of the birth canal with forceps or by vacuum extraction.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.