5 things every woman should know about anesthesia for labor and delivery

anesthesia for labor and delivery

A first-time mother-to-be gets a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and family members about everything from breastfeeding to which kind of diapers to buy.

But when it comes to anesthesia, the nation’s 50,000 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) want all new moms to know their anesthesia options for labor and delivery.

There are two lives to consider. Obstetric anesthesia is different from other types of anesthesia because there are two patients involved: the mother and baby.

It is important that you take both individuals into account when considering anesthesia options.

Labor is unpredictable. Even the best-laid plans for experiencing natural (without anesthesia) childbirth might change if the baby’s health is endangered.

Be flexible and prepared if a cesarean section (C-section) is called for; keeping mother and baby safe is the most important goal.

Participation can be key. An epidural anesthetic allows most women to fully participate in the birth experience (continue to feel touch and pressure) while relieving most, if not all, labor pains.

The epidural is administered through a tiny tube called a catheter placed in the small of the mother’s back, just outside the spinal canal.

The mother may feel a slight pressure with minimal discomfort when the catheter is placed. In most cases, the anesthetist will start the epidural when cervical dilation is four to five centimeters.

Spinals are felt faster. A spinal anesthetic is similar to an epidural, but it is administered with a needle into the spinal canal, again with minimal discomfort.

As a result, its effects are felt much faster. The mother may feel numb and need assistance in moving during the delivery. Spinals are used sometimes for delivery by C-section or when forceps use is indicated.

Complications may require general anesthesia. General anesthesia is administered by giving anesthetic drugs intravenously and having the patient breathe anesthetic gases.

This may be necessary if complications arise during delivery. General anesthetics can be administered quickly, so they are used when time is of the essence. General anesthesia also enables the uterus to relax if your obstetrical provider finds it necessary.