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Labor and Delivery Drugs

The Lowdown on Drugs Offered During Labor

While some expectant mamas go the natural route opting for drug-free births, others enter labor and delivery with the intention to ease pain as early as possible. In either case, it is best to know your pain relief options before entering the hospital, as even the best laid plans can fall by the wayside as labor progresses and the situations change.

There are several different forms of pain relief used by doctors depending on your situation. No one form is best for all deliveries, so to take a look at the difference between the methods,


  • Epidural Block: Epidurals are the most frequently used pain relief during labor, with more than half of all labors using them. The method involves the use of local anesthetics such as bupivacaine, chloroprocaine, or lidocaine combined with epinephrine, fentanyl, morphine, or clonidine to prolong its effect. According to A.D.A.M., "An "epidural block" numbs or causes a loss of feeling in the lower half of your body. A specialist physician or anesthesiologist injects the block into the lower back. The injection is made into a small space outside the spinal cord, and a small soft tube (catheter) is inserted into your back. The needle is withdrawn, and the numbing medicine can be given continuously or in small doses through the tube for as long as desired. This lessens the pain of the uterine contractions and the delivery of the baby through the vagina." Women using epidurals may still feel back or rectal pressure throughout their labor. While epidurals help laboring women to relax and remain alert during their delivery, there are some risks associated with the method, including sudden drops in blood pressure, severe headaches post-delivery and possible prolonged labor.
  • Spinal Block: Most frequently used during complex deliveries and c-section, spinals use fetanyl, bupivacaine or lidocaine to numb the body from the chest down. According to A.D.A.M., "A spinal block is similar to an epidural and also provides good relief. The difference is that the medicine is only given one time in your back and it lasts only 1-2 hours." Spinals tend to have the same benefits and side effects of the epidural, with the biggest difference being the length of time the medication lasts.
  • Walking Epidural: Similar to a traditional epidural, a walking one involves an anesthesiologist pulling the needle back into the epidural space, threading a catheter through the needle, withdrawing the needle and leaving the catheter in place. According to A.D.A.M., "This type of epidural is designed to decrease pain sensation while allowing the mother to move her legs. Most women aren’t actually able to walk around with this type of epidural in place, but they do have more ability to move their legs."
  • Local Anesthesia: Local Anesthesia, or a Pudendal Block, involves the injection of lidocaine or chloroprocaine directly into the delivery area. According to A.D.A.M., "Local anesthesia is a numbing medicine injected in the vaginal and rectal areas by your obstetrician at the time of delivery. This is usually done to lessen the pain as the baby is being delivered and numb the area for an episiotomy, if necessary." Like the other pain relief options, the medications used during a Pudendal Block enter the blood stream and cross the placenta.

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