When Is It Too Late to Get an Epidural?

Epidural is a procedure used to provide pain relief to the lower body while the patient remains conscious. The procedure reduces sensation but does not cause a total absence of feeling. A thin, flexible, hollow tube (catheter) is inserted into the epidural space, immediately outside the membrane surrounding the spinal cord and the spinal fluid, to deliver the pain medication. It is a common method of pain relief during labor.


When Is It Too Late to Get an Epidural?

An epidural can generally be performed at any stage; it is never too late. This is, however, not the case if baby's head is crowning (within the birth canal). Another risk of waiting is that the anesthesiologist may be involved in another procedure so that you may need to wait longer when you decide to undergo epidural. The procedure takes 10-15 minutes to have the catheter in place, and an additional 20 minutes to take full effect.

Alternatively, you can undergo a single spinal injection procedure, in case you are late in labor. The single injection spinal block injection can be in place in five minutes and takes a further five minutes to take full effect. It gives you complete pain relief lasting for several hours.

It is also possible to have both an epidural and a spinal injection. It is worth to note that most anesthesiologists are not comfortable with the combination procedure.

When Is The Best Time to Get an Epidural?

When is it too late to get an epidural? Usually, it is never too late. But is there the best time to receive the procedure? For a long time, most practitioners favored a situation where the woman would be in active labor when the procedure was applied. This was a result of the fear that an epidural was likely to slow down contractions. However, this is no longer the case. Various studies have found that the timing of an epidural does not lead to prolonged labor, a caesarean section or forceps delivery. 

Professionals attending to you today will commence an epidural procedure at whatever point you ask for it. If this happens early in labor, there is no reason why an epidural should not be done. In case you get to hospital before commencement of active labor and you plan to have an epidural, you can ask for placement of the catheter once you settle in your bed. This ensures that you will get the pain medication once you are in active labor.

More Frequently Asked Questions About Epidural

1. Can an Epidural Affect My Baby?

Studies have not found any negative effects on the newborn baby by an epidural on the mother. Some Apgar score tests (an evaluation carried out immediately after birth) showed that babies whose mothers had undergone the procedure scored better than those whose mothers had went through prolonged labor without epidural.

About the effects of an epidural on the ability of a baby to breastfeed immediately after birth, the verdict is still out there. While some experts are of the view that these babies may find it difficult to latch on their mothers’ breasts, others dismiss this.

Nevertheless, all studies show that any effects of epidural on newborns’ behavior are a lot milder than those of systemic narcotics.

Is an Epidural Safe for Everyone?

Epidural is not an appropriate pain relief method for all women. If you have very low blood pressure, the procedure would not be right for you. The procedure is also not appropriate if you have one or more of the following conditions:

  • A bleeding disorder
  • An infection in your blood
  • An infection of the skin on the lower back (the site of entry of the needle)
  • An allergic reaction to local anesthetics
  • On some blood-thinning medications

Is Epidural Anesthesia Always Effective?

An epidural is an effective method of pain relief that works for most women during labor. However, in about 5 percent of cases, the procedure provides patch or one-sided relief. In most of such cases, the anesthesiologist corrects this without repeating the procedure.

In some rare instances, technical issues may arise, preventing the anesthesiologist from inserting the catheter needle into the epidural space. This would interfere with the patient receiving the appropriate pain relief.

Is an Epidural Painful?

Some women fear an epidural than childbirth and wonder "When is it too late to get an epidural?" Once they have had it, they agree that it is more comfortable than IV drips and even a single contraction. A lot of women have apprehension about the size of the needle. However, this doesn’t really matter because a very tiny needle is used at the beginning to numb the area before insertion of the epidural needle.

Most women are comfortable with this tiny needle, but they feel the resultant numbness that stings for a few seconds. 

Can I Still Push When I Have an Epidural?

Once an epidural is in place, you will usually be unable to tell when a contraction comes because of the anesthesia. You will also have reduced control and therefore be unlikely to offer pushing. Because of this, you may need assistance in the form of forceps to get baby through the birth canal.

What Happens When I Move or Get a Contraction During an Epidural?

When is it too late to get an epidural? It has been answered. As to this problem, because labor contractions may come at intervals of two minutes, an epidural will be put in place even as the contractions come and go. But this is all right. The procedure is not too delicate and although small or moderate movements may slow down its placement, the effect is minimal. 

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