Myth busting—epidurals

Myth busting—epidurals

Today, on National Anaesthesia Day Mater’s Obstetric Anaesthetics team is celebrating the theme ‘Anaesthesia and having a baby’ and has answered some frequently asked questions that the team receive about epidurals.

The aim is to provide as much information as possible about epidurals to help pregnant patients be better informed about the procedure as well as the risks and benefits.

Obstetric Anaesthetist Dr Sarah Maguire said that having all the information to hand was important.

“Women need to have as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed choice based on what suits them,” Dr Maguire said.

“Once a patient is in labour it can be difficult to explain the information and to make sure the patient asks all the questions they want.”

“While every birth is different, it is common and natural to experience some degree of discomfort during labour.  Your midwife and obstetrician will help you to manage mild and moderate birthing pain. 

“Your midwife will usually start by suggesting some simple relaxation techniques such as stretches, massages and breathing exercises.  These may be familiar to you from antenatal classes.  They can help you feel more comfortable and in control of your contractions and, if your partner is with you, they can also get involved.”

Obstetric Anaesthetist Dr Fanie Viljoen said there are other options too.

“There is a gas, commonly called ‘happy gas’, that can help you manage your contractions and help you feel more relaxed,” Dr Viljoen said.

“If you start experiencing more severe discomfort, your obstetrician can give you an opioid-based pain medication such as morphine.  This is generally injected into your muscle. Opioids delivered in this way are generally safe to use at any stage of labour.  They allow you to stay fully aware and able to experience sensation.  They can provide a highly effective and almost instant pain relief, but their effects are relatively short lasting.”

“An epidural is a way of delivering sustained strong pain relief during labour that can be tailored to your needs. An epidural is an injection of local anaesthetic and low doses of strong pain relief into the back which blocks the pain sensations from the uterine contractions and cervix dilation so that they cannot be felt.

“Epidurals are very safe and serious complications are very rare.”

Before performing an epidural, an anaesthetist will discuss the risks with you and address any concerns you may have.

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s birthing journey is personal and you should always speak with your treating doctor, midwife or care provider about questions or concerns specific to you.

For more information on epidurals, visit the Mater Mothers brochures website and watch our video below:


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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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