Anesthetics may numb only one region of your body, or they may let you sleep during surgery. These medications are given by trained specialists. Whenever possible, regional anesthesia is used so you can be awake during your baby's birth. The type of regional anesthetic you receive may depend on hospital guidelines.
Regional anesthetics may be used to numb your lower body during vaginal or cesarean birth. Since these anesthetics don't circulate in your blood, little, if any, of the drug reaches your baby.
- An epidural is most often given while you sit up or lie curled up on your side. A needle holding a flexible tube (catheter) is placed into your lower back. The needle is removed and the anesthetic is supplied through the catheter as needed. Sometimes a pump is attached to the catheter. The pump gives you a constant level of anesthetic throughout labor and delivery. Since epidurals only partly affect muscle control, you should still be able to push during a vaginal birth.
- A spinal is most often given in one fast-acting dose right before delivery. You may be sitting up or lying down when it is injected. This may affect muscle control in your lower body. This includes the ability to push.
General anesthesia is most often used when a cesarean needs to be performed quickly. This anesthetic may be given as an injection, as inhaled gas, or as both. General anesthesia lets you sleep and keeps you free from pain during surgery. Delivery often occurs before the anesthetic has reached the baby.