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Pain Medications Used in Labor

Several pain medications can be used during labor. Atlantic Health System recommends that you talk to your doctor or midwife about the risks and benefits of each one:

Analgesics

Analgesics can be given as a shot or intravenously. These medications won’t usually slow labor or interfere with contractions, but they may cause you to feel sleepy or nauseous. Analgesics given too close to the time of delivery may cause the baby to be sleepy right after birth.

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia blocks pain sensation to a small area. This is often used before the doctor or midwife performs an episiotomy (a small incision in the perineum to help the baby pass through without tearing). Local anesthesia rarely affects the baby and has no lingering side effects. It is not effective for contraction pain.

Regional Anesthesia

This is the most commonly used pain medication for labor. Regional anesthesia blocks the nerves to deaden the sensation to certain areas of the body. It can be used for labor or for a Cesarean Section.

Anesthesia is administered by an anesthesiologist, a doctor who specializes in pain management. Morristown, Overlook, Newton and Chilton medical centers have an anesthesiologist available in Labor and Delivery around the clock. You will receive a separate bill from the anesthesiologist for his or her services.

Epidural

An epidural is a regional anesthesia that blocks pain sensation to the body below the belly button. The anesthesiologist places a needle or small tube into the woman’s lower back into a space around the spinal cord. Medication is given through the needle or tube. The amount of medication is decided based on the woman’s height and the amount of pain relief needed.

Epidurals have some side effects. An epidural may slow down labor or cause the woman’s blood pressure to decrease. The lack of sensation may also make it hard for the woman to push the baby out at the time of delivery. Occasionally, a woman may get a severe headache from the procedure.

Epidural anesthesia can be used in labor to manage the pain of contractions. An epidural may also be used for a Cesarean Section. Most epidurals can be repeated or more medication can be provided if needed.

An epidural is not for every patient. A woman with back problems, bleeding problems or certain other medical conditions may not be able to use an epidural.

Spinal Block

A spinal block is a regional anesthesia that works very quickly to block pain and is primarily used for Cesarean Sections. The anesthesiologist uses a needle to deliver the medication into the woman’s lower back into the fluid around the spinal cord. Like an epidural, a spinal block may cause the woman’s blood pressure to decrease. Occasionally, a woman may get a severe headache from the medication.

General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is a combination of gas and intravenous medications that make you lose consciousness. It is not used to relieve labor pain. General anesthesia is used mainly for urgent Cesarean Sections because it starts to work faster than regional anesthesia. It is important to tell your anesthesiologist if you or anyone in your family has ever had a problem with anesthesia.

There is some risk of vomiting with general anesthesia. If your doctor thinks you may need general anesthesia, you may be told not to eat any food or drink and may also be given an antacid before delivery. After you are asleep, a tube will be placed in your throat to help you breathe. This may cause a sore throat. As general anesthesia wears off, you may feel drowsy and tired for several hours.