When I was a first time mom to be, I planned on having a non medicated birth to see what it was like. Having an epidural was more of a last resort idea for me. I am also terrified of needles and the thought of a big long one in my back really scared me! After one of those long labors you hear about from most first time moms, I got an epidural and let me just say… it was sheer bliss. If you’re afraid of an epidural needle or not feeling your legs, I’m here to calm your fears.
I’m not going to go into pros and cons or risks of an epidural. But I do want to show you what it feels like to get the epidural placed, what you can still feel, and how each one was a little bit different for all 3 births!
Be sure to take a childbirth education course
Before I jump into epidurals, I wanted to make sure that you know you have the option to take a prenatal course online. Whatever you do, don’t skip taking one just because you can’t do it in person or think you can just power through it without one!
I took this prenatal video course for couples from Hilary at Pulling Curls. She’s a labor and delivery nurse since 2001, and she knows her stuff! She prepares you for labor and delivery and postpartum. Everything was really accurate to what my hospital experience was like. You can read my full thoughts on her prenatal course here.
Ok, now on to the epidural.
What to expect before you get an epidural
- Once you decide you want pain relief, you really want an epidural. This can be good or bad! I remember once I changed my mind to wanting one, it was a long wait mentally. My very painful contractions had been minutes apart for hours, and I would go through about 10 more before any relief. I kept wondering when it would come, and could have kissed my nurse anesthetist for rescuing me from the pain!
- You may have to wait. One thing I wrongly thought is that I would be pain free within minutes of asking for an epidural. However, after hours and hours of painful contractions (on Pitocin), I had to go through quite a few more before the nurse anesthetist would arrive. Keep in mind by the time you ask, it may be 20-30 minutes before they arrive.
- They prepare your lower back. I thought it would be like going in to get a flu shot where you sit down and it’s done. Nope. They first put tape on my back and wiped the area clean. Then they drew on my back with a marker, and had me lean forward. I was scared. They numbed the skin with a shot and gave the epidural. Plus they waited for me every contraction when I was shaking badly. I’m actually SO amazed they could give me an epidural with how much my body was shaking.
- It doesn’t work instantly. I’ve found it takes around 15-30 minutes for the pain to be gone/nearly gone. That’s why some people who get it “too late” can give birth before the epidural sets in. That almost happened to me once!
- You will not be able to lay flat on your back for the rest of labor and delivery. Or walk.I had no clue about this one. Not a huge deal, but now you will at least know! The nurses will position towels around you to force you to lay a tad on your side. Also, you will no longer be able to walk around because your legs will be mostly numb.
Does an epidural hurt when they inject the needle?
Ok, this is a rational fear because people like to scare you and tell you how long the needle is. Or, if you are like me, you have a pretty long history of just passing out at the sight or thought of needles.
First off, you’ll never see it. They don’t show it to you, and you will be leaning forward. I was just shocked by how little I felt. Think of it as an initial poke, and a sense of pressure during the actual epidural.
The nurse anesthetist numbs the skin on your back by first giving you a small shot with a small needle that’s over in two seconds. No biggy, and that’s coming from a total needle scaredy cat.
Since the skin was numb, I did not feel the epidural needle poke! Just pressure as they put in the catheter. Let me assure you it was no big deal compared to labor!
However, I’m sure it would have felt worse had I not been in painful labor and viewing the epidural as my portal to easy street.
How long does it take for an epidural to provide pain relief?
Usually anywhere from 10-30 minutes. The pain decreases gradually till it is gone. The medicine will go through the catheter continually and if the dose is too low (aka you want more relief) you can tell your nurse.
This time frame has been pretty much the same for all 3 epidurals I’ve had. I noticed my contractions were a little less painful until they were not painful at all.
Read this awesome post from UNC’s anesthesia department for a step by step explanation of everything that goes on during an epidural.
What does an epidural feel like after it kicks in?
I felt numb from the belly down for my first 2, and was less numb for my 3rd.
The idea of not feeling your contractions can be scary to some. I’m the type of person who is really afraid of pain and I do not mind the numb feeling. I know a lot of moms who felt mild contractions (pressure, not pain) after their epidurals.
Can you still feel contractions?
Barely! Each of my epidurals has felt a little bit different (some more numb than others). I would describe it as a gentle tightening feeling, but gentle enough you could sleep through it! One thing that’s true is it’s a heck of a lot less painful with an epidural no matter what.
For two of my epidurals I barely felt any contractions, and they had to tell me when to push. But for my last baby, I felt pressure for each contraction and even pain while pushing.
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How my epidurals were different with each baby
I think the overall “epidural experience” differed with each baby due to the amount of medicine I received through my epidural as well as the timing. I’ll explain what was different each time.
Epidural with baby #1
I went from laboring HARD from about 3pm -5am the next day when i got an epidural. The relief I felt was so incredible that I did not care about the complete numbness in my belly, legs and toes. I don’t think I could even lift up my legs! I could not feel my contractions at all, and actually fell asleep from 5am-7am. Baby was born as soon as I woke up.
Epidural with baby#2
This time, I knew I wanted to have an epidural, ha! Once I was 4cm and having painful contractions I got an epidural. However, about 10 minutes after I got one I felt a TON of pressure and told them it felt like I had to poop. They checked me and saw the baby’s head!
Everyone scrambled to get gloves on and prepare. I really don’t know how I went from a 4 to a 10 that fast. Anyway, I could still feel my legs and move them. The epidural really kicked in just in time to push because I don’t remember feeling much of anything when the baby came out (about 30 minutes after I got an epidural). Literally just in the nick of time!
Epidural with baby #3
I was nervous I’d miss the epidural window with this one because of baby #2’s experience. I got one when I was 4 cm dilated and having painful contractions (same as before, the earliest they would administer them). This one was different though.
While I did feel relief even just 10 minutes after, this time I actually felt each contraction more. Not nearly the pain that I had, but enough to get my attention each time. I knew that I could ask to press the button to increase the medicine, but for some reason I kept listening to my nurse who was encouraging me not to press it if I felt pressure, only if I felt pain. The nurse anesthetist said it was ok, but I listed to my nurse instead.
I’d describe it as bearable or uncomfortable, but not painful.
The biggest difference this time was with pushing. I didn’t really feel anything with my other two, but felt legit pain down there (I know I know, probably WAY less than if I’d had no epidural. Just trying to say it how it was). My body handles pain in labor by puking, which is exactly what started happening.
That’s why I think I should have pressed the button again.
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What to expect immediately after birth if you get an epidural
- If you get an epidural, then feel lucky that you won’t experience the discomfort of delivering your placenta!
- They will remove the catheter, but I honestly can’t ever remember them taking it out even after 3 births!
- You will get wheeled to the mother baby side with your baby, because your legs are numb and incapable of holding your weight.
- A nurse or two will help you pee, because you will not be able to go alone for a few hours. You cannot feel the urge to pee as easily, so it’s important to go! Luckily, it won’t sting down there for your first pee, haha. The medicine is still working it’s magic.
- After it wears off in a few hours, your lower back will feel sore for a day. Kind of like how your arm feels after you get a shot.
So should you get an epidural?
There is no right or wrong answer! It doesn’t make you a better mom or worse mom. It’s more about the experience you want.
I think for me, getting an epidural made my births more of an enjoyable experience. It gave my body a break after laboring and puking all night long. It allowed me to rest.
With each baby I think it’s important to go into birth mentally prepared that it might only work on half my body (as some of my friends have experienced). Or I may progress too fast to get one. In these situations, I have to mentally prepare that my body can do it.
What makes you want one (or not)?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who was and still is scared of needles and pain in general. If you have had an epidural, I’d love for you to leave a comment with your experience so other moms can read it too! If you have never had one, what scares you about them? I’d love to know.
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