General anesthesia is rarely used during labor and delivery. When a woman is given a “general”, as it is commonly called, she loses consciousness and feeling. This prevents her from interacting with the attending physician and leaves her unable to push during labor. Typically, general anesthesia is reserved for C-section deliveries that have complications.
Benefits of General Anesthesia
If there is a complication with a vaginal birth, general anesthesia may be used so the doctor can quickly perform a C-section. General anesthesia takes only a few moments to place the woman into a deep sleep so doctors can remove the baby through an abdominal incision.
General anesthesia comes with a long line of potential risks and side effects for the woman and her baby. The most important are cardiovascular function and oxygen exchange. The anesthesiologist will monitor both the woman and her baby, with the help of doctors and nurses, during the C-section delivery under general anesthesia. Risks to baby may include a decrease in blood flow from the uterus and neonatal depression.
Administration of General Anesthesia
After choosing to place the woman “under”, the anesthesiologist will give her a sedative through an IV leaving her in a semiconscious state. Then, nitrous oxide is given via mask to achieve the unconscious state needed for quick delivery of the baby. Once “under” a tube will be run down the throat to prevent inhalation of vomit and to maintain a clear airway.
There are very few reasons to choose a general anesthesia over other forms of pain management during labor and delivery. Due to the potential health risks to woman and her baby, doctors typically choose some other form of medication if a quick delivery is needed.