How Long Does An Epidural Last?
An epidural is a regional anaesthesia given to women during labour, to block the pain of contractions. Around 50% of women who birth in hospital will be given an epidural during labour. One of the questions pregnant women ask is, how long does an epidural last?
Epidural anaesthetic is usually given as a combination of a local anaesthetic and a narcotic. Local anaesthetics block the sensation of pain, touch, temperature and movement, while narcotics block the nerve impulses of pain. How long the effects of an epidural will last depends on which method is used.
The anaesthetist injects the epidural anaesthetic into a catheter which has been placed into the epidural space. This method usually provides pain relief for 1-2 hours, and once it starts to wear off, you can have a top up.
The advantage of this method is that it can be used if you are almost fully dilated and you want to let the anaesthetic wear off so you can push during the second stage of labour.
Once the catheter is in place, the anaesthetist can set up an epidural pump. The pump feeds the epidural solution into the catheter continuously, providing pain relief for as long as needed.
The type, amount and strength of the anaesthetic can be adjusted, as necessary. You might also be given the option of having control of the medication pump. This is called patient controlled analgesia. The amount of painkiller is still regulated, so you can’t accidentally overdose.
You can have the dose lowered for second stage pushing, but it takes some time for the pain relief and numbness to wear off, so if this is important to you, discuss it with your care provider early on.
Combined Spinal Epidural (CSE)
A CSE is an initial injection of low dose anaesthetic, which works within 5 minutes. The pain relieving action will wear off after 1-2 hours and the anaesthetist can insert the epidural solution via injection or infusion to give ongoing pain relief.
The advantage of a CSE is that the initial dose of anaesthetic works very fast and covers any pain while you are waiting for the long term epidural anaesthetic to take effect.
Choosing to have an epidural is a not a decision to make lightly. Women who have labour induced are more likely to request an epidural, due to the strong painful contractions. Epidurals are also linked to longer labours, a higher rate of interventions such as forceps and vacuum birth, and c-section.
Recommended Reading: Labour Pain: What To Expect And Things To Remember.