Not That You Need Another Reason To Be Frightened Of Childbirth, But We Just Learned How An Epidural Is Administered, And It's A Lot More Than Just A Shot

    The needle to put the catheter in can be up to five inches long 😵‍💫

    TikTok user @z00mie recently caught the attention of over 17 million people after she shared a TikTok stating that she just discovered that an epidural is not a shot administered by a long needle as some may have seen depicted. In fact, it's a small, flexible catheter that is threaded down into the space where the initial needle made contact and the needle is then removed.

    Right away, it was apparent that lots of people did not know this information.

    And why would they? I mean, it's not like the school system (or a lot of our doctors 😐) is teaching us these things.

    One person commented "As soon I have money my uterus is getting yeeted I swear"

    So today, let's go over what an epidural actually is and how exactly it is administered, with helpful information provided by Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, who is a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine and founder of MadameOvary.com.

    First of all, an epidural is an injection in your back to stop you from feeling pain in part of your body. And even though epidurals are most commonly used during childbirth, they can also be given during orthopedic surgery of any lower extremity and/or to help with managing chronic pain.

    An epidural being administerd to a patient

    For the purposes of this article, however, we are just going to refer to epidurals used during childbirth. "We can administer the epidural right away, as long as the person is in good labor and contracting well. If they're not in solid labor, an epidural can slow things down, so they might have to wait," Minkin said.

    A person in labor

    When you're ready to receive your epidural, your healthcare provider will have you either sit forward, arching your back and hugging your knees, or they will have you roll over on your side, lying in a fetal position.

    A patient on their side ready for an epidural

    Next, the skin on your lower back will be numbed and a needle will be inserted — this is where the needle idea comes from, because a needle IS involved, but promptly removed. The needle goes into the space around your spine and 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 from the waist down.

    One thing Minkin said most people are nervous about when it comes to epidurals is thinking a needle is going into their spine. But 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.

    An illustration of a needle being inserted into the epidural space by the spinal cord

    If there aren't any complications, the whole process of getting an epidural should take less than 15 minutes. It kicks in fairly quickly and you may feel pressure from it, 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!

    A skeletal representation of the spine with a person holding an injection next to it

    The epidural usually wears off after a couple of hours, but because you won't be able to stand or use the restroom while you're numb, some people need a urinary catheter. Minkin said those are given on a case-by-case basis, and if you do need one, you won't feel it being inserted because you'll be numb (thanks to the epidural).

    Now, if you're in labor and have an epidural but 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 block 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," Minkin said.

    Overall, an epidural is a pretty safe procedure, but it does have some risks. "The major medical problem we see with epidurals is blood pressure falling. Epidurals relax a lot of stuff — and that's a good thing — but they can also 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 fluids) to minimize the chances of the person's blood pressure going down," she said.

    So, hopefully, now you understand how an epidural is given — have you ever had one? Did you know this info already? Let us know in the comments!