Most women spend a lot of time deciding whether or not they want an epidural as pain medication during labor. It is a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, you want to have a natural childbirth without the interference of chemicals. On the other hand, you don’t want to be screaming in pain and missing out on the beauty of the process. Some women make up their mind not to use any pain medications and then change their mind when labor starts. Using pain medications for labor is not something you should be ashamed of. Birth is painful, and when you’re holding your baby in your arms at the end of it all, it won’t even matter. However, it’s important that you know your options. 

Epidurals are the most commonly chosen form of anesthesia during birth. The medication is continuously pumped through a catheter just outside the spinal membrane so that you cannot feel much from your waist down until the catheter is removed. However, it’s not the only option. Another form of anesthesia you might consider during labor is the spinal block. 

The spinal block on its own is not a medication you’d probably decide upon before you go into labor, but it’s an excellent option for relief once labor has begun. Unlike the epidural, spinal anesthesia is actually injected into the spine and provides immediate relief. However, the numbness and relief only lasts for a few hours after injection. If labor is already well underway, it’s too late for an epidural. If you feel that you need pain relief during labor or if labor is progressing too rapidly, your doctor might recommend a spinal block. In some cases, you can even get a combination of the spinal block and epidural so that you can reap the varying benefits of each at different labor stages. 

Both types of medication have their benefits and their drawbacks. Epidurals last longer, but spinal blocks provide more urgent pain relief. Before you go into labor and are consumed with pain and distraction, it’s essential that you know about your options for pain medication so that you can make an informed decision even in a moment of stress. Before your due date, talk with your doctor at length about the drawbacks and benefits of pain medication during labor and determine whether or not you’ll want an epidural as soon as labor begins. 

Source: James Moore: Continuous Spinal Anesthesia. American Journal of Therapeutics Volume 16 Issue 4 pp. 289-294 August 2009