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What type of anesthesia may be used during my labor and delivery?

At most hospitals an anesthesiologist will work with your health care team to pick the best method for you.
  • Systemic analgesics are often given as injections into a muscle or vein. They lessen pain but will not cause you to lose consciousness. They act on the whole nervous system rather than a specific area.
  • Local anesthesia provides numbness or loss of sensation in a small area. It does not, however, lessen the pain of contractions.
A procedure called an episiotomy may be done by your obstetrician before delivery. Local anesthesia is helpful when an episiotomy needs to be done or when any vaginal tears that happened during birth are repaired.
  • Regional analgesia tends to be the most effective method of pain relief during labor and causes few side effects. Epidural analgesia, spinal blocks and combined spinal-epidural blocks are all types of regional analgesia that are used to decrease labor pain.
Epidural analgesia, sometimes called an epidural block, causes some loss of feeling in the lower areas of your body, yet you remain awake and alert. An epidural block may be given soon after your contractions start, or later as your labor progresses. An epidural block with more or stronger medications (anesthetics, not analgesics) can be used for a cesarean delivery or if vaginal birth requires the help of forceps or vacuum extraction.

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 combined spinal-epidural block has the benefits of both types of pain relief. The spinal part helps provide pain relief right away. Drugs given through the epidural provide pain relief throughout labor. This type of pain relief is injected into the spinal fluid and into the space below the spinal cord.
  • General anesthetics are medications that put you to sleep (make you lose consciousness). If you have general anesthesia, you are not awake and you feel no pain. General anesthesia often is used when a regional block anesthetic is not possible or is not the best choice for medical or other reasons. It can be started quickly and causes a rapid loss of consciousness. Therefore, it is often used when an urgent cesarean delivery is needed.

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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.