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Obstetric Anesthesia

What anesthetic options will I have when I deliver my baby?

For an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you have the option of either receiving an injection of pain medicine or choosing neuraxial (spinal or epidural) pain relief, which is administered by an anesthesia provider. Neuraxial anesthesia involves the delivery of local anesthetic solution to the epidural or spinal space located in your lower back. This medicine blocks the transmission of pain signals from the abdomen and pelvis, thereby decreasing the pain of labor.

What is an epidural?

Epidural procedureAn epidural is a small, sterile catheter that is placed in a patient’s back to allow delivery of medicine to help with pain during childbirth. One advantage of an epidural is that it allows most women to fully participate in the birth experience while relieving most, if not all, of the pains of labor. Most women will only feel touch and pressure after the epidural is placed. As with any medical procedure, there is a small chance of complications that your anesthesia provider will discuss with you. You will be closely monitored if you choose to have an epidural placed.

What is a spinal?

For a caesarean section, the anesthetic most frequently administered is a spinal anesthetic. This differs from an epidural in that medication is injected directly into the spinal fluid in order to bathe the nerve fibers in a solution of local anesthetic. This results in a dense sensory block and is more suited to the purpose of surgical anesthesia than relief of labor pain.

If a patient has a pre-existing epidural catheter and requires a caesarean section, usually the epidural can be used to administer the type of medication necessary to perform surgery. On occasion, however, the epidural may not be adequate for use during surgery, in which case a spinal or general anesthetic may be needed.

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is administered by giving anesthetic drugs intravenously and having the patient breathe anesthetic gases through a breathing tube. A general anesthetic may be necessary if complications arise during delivery. General anesthetics can be administered quickly, so they are considered the best choice when time is of the essence.

I’m going to have a caesarean section. What should I expect?

A caesarean section (C-section) is a surgical procedure which involves delivery of the baby through an incision in the abdominal wall. Because patients are encouraged to participate in the experience of childbirth, a C-section is usually performed with the patient awake, under a spinal or epidural anesthetic. Depending on the circumstances, it is usually possible to allow one other support person to join the mother in the operating room during surgery. Following delivery of the baby, the support person may be allowed to accompany the newborn to the nursery, or he/she may choose to remain with the mother for the remainder of the procedure. Following the operation, the mother will be transported to the recovery room and she will be reunited with her newborn, provided there are no complications or contraindications. Learn more about your baby's care after a cesarean delivery.

Learn more about the types of anesthesiology in the Tanner's Health Library. The American Society of Anesthesiologists’ publication, “Planning Your Childbirth: Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery,” also will provide you with additional information.

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