Frequently Asked Questions about Labor Anesthesia

We understand you may have many questions. If you cannot find the answer to your question here, please contact us.

Can Everyone Get An Epidural?

Most pregnant women are relatively healthy and are able to get an epidural for childbirth.

Women who have a serious infection at the time of delivery may not be able to get an epidural due to concern about spreading infection into the back or your body’s ability to handle the blood pressure changes of an epidural if you are really sick. Women who do not clot properly, either due to a lifelong clotting disorder or due to a clotting disorder associated with pregnancy, may not be candidates due to concern for bleeding in the back and damage to nerves. Women with certain serious heart conditions may not be eligible. A history of significant back surgery, like Harrington Rods or extensive fusion, may make an epidural technically more difficult to perform but does not keep you from getting one.

If you have a concern about a medical condition, please contact our office at 314-469-6800.

When Can I Get My Epidural?

The decision to get an epidural will be made by you and your obstetrician. Factors that influence the decision include your cervical dilation, your pain, your labor history, your baby’s heart rate, and your contraction pattern. There is generally no set cervical dilation that you must get to in order to get your epidural. There is also no time when it is too late to get an epidural at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. Even if you are completely dilated, if you are able to cooperate and sit still, you may still get an epidural.

Can an Epidural Harm my Baby?

Epidurals have been used with a great safety record for more than 50 years in the United States. Very little of the medication that you are given goes to your baby, unlike other forms of pain relief. You may get a temporary decrease in blood pressure or a temporary increase in contractions that can affect your baby. For this reason, your vital signs and contractions will be monitored closely after placement of your epidural.

Do Epidurals Slow Labor or Lead to Increased Cesarean Section Rate?

These questions have been difficult to answer over time because when epidurals were first being done, women having abnormally painful labor were more likely to get epidurals. These same women were at increased risk of prolonged labor or Cesarean Section for the same reasons that their labors were more painful. Recent studies have concluded that epidurals do not significantly slow labor or lead to increased Cesarean Section rates.

Do Epidurals Cause Back Pain?

No. Aside from some temporary soreness at the insertion site in the lower back, epidurals are not associated with long term back pain. The postpartum period is associated with low back pain due to the stress of pregnancy and childbirth and poor body mechanics in the postpartum period.

Do All Epidurals Work Perfectly?

Epidurals are the most effective form of pain relief in labor but can have a failure rate as high as 20%. Sometimes a block only works on one side or does not provide adequate pain control for the pushing portion of labor. Sometimes these problems can be fixed with position changes, adjusting the catheter, or putting more medicine in. If not, a non-functioning epidural can be replaced which usually fixes the problem. Very rarely, an epidural, even if replaced, may not work well. This may be due to malformations in the epidural space in individual patients.

Will I Receive a Bill from Obstetric Anesthesia Associates?

Yes, just as your Obstetrician bills independently for their professional services, so do the physicians of Obstetric Anesthesia Associates. Most insurance companies pay for pain relief in labor and we will submit a bill to your insurance company on your behalf. You will be responsible for any co-pay or deductible not covered by your insurance company. For billing questions, please contact our office at 314-469-6800.

Why Can’t I Eat with my Epidural?

Once you have your epidural, you will be restricted to clear liquids because all narcotic pain medications, some of which are given in the epidural, dramatically slow down how your stomach empties. If you were to lose consciousness, either due to general anesthesia for an emergency cesarean, or due to a medical emergency during labor, a full stomach could mean that stomach contents get into your lungs. This can cause serious damage to the lungs and even death.