How much pain should you expect during labor when you have an epidural? Should you expect to be pain-free?
Before we get started — hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse. I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and have worked in many fields including labor and delivery where I worked for 20 years. Today, I’m going to share some of the information I’ve learned in the thousands of epidurals I have taken care of!
I am also the creator of The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — the best childbirth class taught by an experienced nurse online. I have a whole chapter on pain management, and a bonus video about natural pain relief methods. I’d love it if you joined me inside!
Epidural Pain Relief
The epidural is a method of pain relief that goes into the epidural space of your back. It works from about your bra line to your knees.
Most often a tube is left in that can infuse the medication to allow for continuous pain management.
How does the epidural work?
An anesthesiologist puts medication in that numbs the nerves and takes away the pain.
How much pain does the epidural take away?
The epidural CAN take away all of your pain. However, most anesthesiologists only aim to take about 80% of the pain.
That may sound unfair, but by allowing you to feel just 20%, it allows;
- Your body to have some feedback about the pain (which I think helps allow labor to progress)
- You to be able to move, or help the nurses move you — movement after an epidural is way important!
- Help you to feel when you’re supposed to push (and again have feedback for that situation as well)
As I said before, an epidural can be dosed up more for a cesarean section. But, for a good labor epidural — it should take away 80% of your pain.
What to do if you are uncomfortable during labor?
Some epidurals have a “button” that can be pushed to allow for a “bolus” of epidural medication (that means it temporarily gives you a large dose). This does have a lock-out and maximum feature so you aren’t given too much.
If that isn’t available or isn’t working. Be sure to let your nurse know. You are paying a LOT of money for that epidural, and you deserve to have it attended to and pain relief given.
However, if medication doesn’t help there are only a few things the doctor can do:
- Pull back the tube (called a catheter), in case there is a kink beneath the skin
- Replace the epidural — they can slip out of the right spot
What you will feel during labor with the epidural
Most often the epidural takes away your labor pains in your belly/back area.
Often women feel a lot of pressure as the baby descends. The epidural can’t help all of that as pain receptors are different than pressure receptors. This is a good time to use some breathing to help your body relax into that pressure.
Is the epidural my only option?
Keep in mind there ARE other pain management options in labor — I have a whole podcast on your pain management options.
As I said above — in my Online Prenatal Class I talk both about the epidural at length and also some natural pain management methods.