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    As Someone Whose Had An Epidural, Here's What You Need To Know — Plus Everything Else From An Expert

    Just pretend you don't know how long the needle is, k?

    Kathy Hoang / BuzzFeed

    Hello, curious little minds!! (I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher — plz embrace the cheesiness and let me have my moment.) Anyway, it's another week which means we have another new topic to learn about! Last week we learned some surprising things about sleep and before that we talked about all things sex. This week, we are going to investigate epidurals. Let's FIND THE FACTS.

    Last year when I answered your questions about my experience with vaginal childbirth, many people had lingering questions about getting an epidural — which, if you didn't know, is anesthesia that numbs you from your waist down. So, first I'll talk about my own experience, and then we'll get into the real facts from expert Dr. Mary Jane Minkin.

    Dr. Minkin is a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, and founder of She doesn't have an Instagram, but you can read more about her background here!

    First and foremost, I am going to explain my epidural experience having my son vaginally. When I was pregnant, I didn't have a preference one way or another when it came to the epidural. I thought if I need it, I'll get it and if I don't, I won't. But, after going into labor, I quickly realized I NEEDED IT.

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    I will say I did have a tiny fear that I would go paralyzed because I read that was a small possibility, but after the pain of labor kicked in, I was willing to take the risk for some relief.

    The biggest question I get is how badly did it hurt. Honestly? I felt nothing. The pain of labor was SO INTENSE that I didn't feel a thing. They turned me on my side to administer it and the only thing I felt were my excruciating contractions. The whole process was under ten minutes and I was totally numb quickly afterward.


    And let me just tell you, when it kicked in, I was a totally different person. I could talk, I could smile, I could ENJOY my labor. It was bliss compared to what I had been dealing with. At that moment, 10/10 would recommend an epidural.

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    However, all good things come with a little bad — sometimes. After I got home from the hospital, I began having really bad lower back pain (something I've never experienced). I ended up having to see a chiropractor twice a month for about nine months. Thankfully, I no longer get lower back pain unless I am sitting a certain way for an extended period of time.


    Because this happened to me, it does make me scared to get another epidural if I were to ever have another kid. But, at the same time, I know how bad labor is... so I probably would end up getting another one if it came down to it.

    Now let's talk to Dr. Minkin who can really tell us everything we need to know! Here's a video of our interview — or you can scroll down to read a breakdown of the info!

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    Let's break down the process of getting an epidural. First, your health care provider will have you either sit forward and hug your knees, arching your back or they will have you roll over on your side, lying in a fetal position. Next, the skin on your lower back will be numbed and a needle will be inserted. The needle goes into the space around your spine. Once the needle is in that space, a small, flexible catheter is threaded down into it and the needle is removed. The catheter is hooked up to a pump that constantly gives you a very small amount of anesthetic to keep you numb.

    Stock image of a person getting an epidural.
    Kipgodi / Getty Images

    "Labor epidurals take away the pain fibers that come in toward your spine and up to your head without blocking the motor activity and contractions in the uterus. Basically, the nerves from the whole body go out from the spinal cord. But, there is an area around the spinal cord, which are membranes that contain fluid — spinal fluid. The nerves pass through this space which is the epidural space. So, in an epidural, you are introducing a catheter, something like an IV in a sense, that you'll inject medicine through which will hit those nerves that are going out from the spine. You're trying to bathe those nerves in an anesthetic agent to make them numb," Minkin added.

    One thing Minkin said most people are nervous about when it comes to epidurals is thinking a needle is going into their spine. So, rest easy knowing the needle is not going directly into your spine — it is going into the fluid around your spine and it is also removed! I'm not going to lie and tell you the needle is small, though, because it's not. It's usually three and a half to five inches long.

    Close up of epidural needle going into a back.
    Karrastock / Getty Images

    The whole process of getting an epidural should take less than 15 minutes — and I can confirm this is true, I think mine only took about ten minutes. It kicks in fairly quickly and you may feel pressure, but not intense pain. Minkin said labor pains after getting an epidural will typically go from about an 8 or 9 to a 1 on the pain scale!!!

    Needle into the back during epidural procedure.
    Oceandigital / Getty Images

    Please note: If you have complications when it is being administered, it could take longer.

    I was in labor several hours before getting my epidural. Minkin said this isn't always the case, however. "We can administer the epidural right away, as long as the person is in good labor, contracting well. If they're not in solid labor, an epidural can slow things down and that's probably why you had to wait," she said.

    Stock image of woman in active labor
    Kemal Yildirim / Getty Images

    In addition, after an epidural, some people get so numb that they have trouble pushing. "Sometimes we let an epidural lighten up so the woman can feel more to push better. We don't let it wear off altogether, but we let it wear off a bit so she can't feel where she's pushing because she may not be pushing effectively."

    Because you won't be able to stand or use the restroom while you're numb from the epidural, some people will get a urinary catheter if they are having trouble holding their urine. I did not have one and Minkin said those are given on a case-by-case basis, but if you do get one you can breathe a sigh of relief because you won't feel it!!!

    Stock image of the urine bag from catheter.
    Wacharaphong / Getty Images

    If you're curious, the epidural usually wears off after about a couple of hours.

    OK, so what happens if you're in labor and you have an epidural and need an emergency C-section? Minkin said the procedure can be done under the epidural and the person usually doesn't need another anesthetic. However, if someone is coming in with a scheduled C-section, they will likely get a spinal anesthetic instead of an epidural. "A spinal anesthetic actually works a little more quickly and gives the person a denser block which provides more pain relief in their belly," explained Minkin.

    Stock image of a woman getting a c-section
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    And that's getting an epidural in a nutshell! It is a pretty safe procedure, but as with most things, it doesn't come without risks. "The major medical problem we see with epidurals is blood pressure falling a bit. Epidurals relax a lot of stuff — and that's a good thing... But, the thing is, we also can relax your blood vessels, so we have to pay attention to your blood pressure. One precautionary thing we do is always have an intravenous (IV of fluids) to minimize the chances of the person's blood pressure going down."

    Stock image of a person with an IV in their hand.
    Boy_anupong / Getty Images

    Minkin added, "Another major risk is if you get into the space directly next to the spinal cord. If this happens, you might, unfortunately, develop a leak of some of that fluid, which causes headaches for several days. That's one complication that we do see occasionally. The instance of paralysis is extraordinarily rare. I've never seen a case, never heard of a case, but it could happen."

    In terms of the back pain I experienced, she said it can be a side effect.

    "In our population, the majority of people do end up with epidurals as far as having kids. The other thing to remember is labor is usually worse with your first kid, so many people will have an epidural for their first labor and not with their second because it is much faster," Minkin said.


    Minkin said one of her pet peeves is when people put 'You will not offer me anesthesia' on their birth plans. "I'm like, 'No I'm not signing off on that.' When I became a doctor it was to stop suffering. Everyone has a perfect right to say no — absolutely! If you don't want anesthesia — that's fine. But, as a physician, I will never agree to not offer pain medicine."

    Remember, do what you feel most comfortable and happy with always! If you have any specific epidural-related questions, be sure to ask your doctor. Special thanks to Dr. Minkin for her expertise on this topic!


    Got a topic you want the FACTS on?! DM me @callmekristatorres and I'll see if I can get an expert to give us the answers!

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