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Obstetrical Anesthesia

Board-certified anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists are available 24 hours a day to provide pain relief for women delivering babies. Some common procedures include the following:

Epidural Anesthesia for Labor

Epidural analgesia, sometimes called an epidural block, causes some loss of feeling in the lower areas of your body, yet allows you remain awake and alert. An epidural block may be given soon after your contractions start, or later as your labor progresses. An epidural block is given in the lower back into a small area (the epidural space) outside the spinal cord. You will be asked to sit with your back curved outward while the needle is being placed.

After the epidural needle is placed, a small tube (catheter) is inserted through it, and the needle is withdrawn. A continuous dose of medication can then be given through the tubing, and you will be given a button to self-administer extra doses. The catheter is soft and flexible and can be safely laid on. Although an epidural block will make you more comfortable, you still may be aware of your contractions. You will be able to move following an epidural block, but won’t immediately be able to walk.

An epidural block with more or stronger medications can be used for a cesarean delivery. Using an epidural allows your delivery team flexibility during birth — in the case of an unplanned cesarean delivery, the epidural can be “strengthened” quickly and safely. Patients with indwelling epidural catheters rarely require general anesthesia for their cesarean section.

Out of all the options for pain control, epidurals provide the best and most reliable level of pain relief and patient satisfaction.

Anesthesia for Elective Cesarean Section

Cesarean births require anesthesia — either via an epidural, a combined spinal/epidural or rarely, a general anesthetic. Your anesthesia provider will discuss the options available to you and remain with you throughout the surgery.

Discussing the Use of Anesthesia

If you have a significant medical condition, prior spinal surgery or trouble with an anesthetic in the past, you may have a consultation with one of the anesthesiologists prior to your delivery date. Have your obstetrician write you a prescription for a “pre-op consultation” with the Department of Anesthesiology. You may then call to make an appointment at 202-537-4437 to discuss and plan your care as appropriate. The appointment MUST take place at least two days before your scheduled delivery.

You may request a specific anesthesiologist by speaking with your obstetrician or by calling the Anesthesia Office at 202-243-2280 several days prior to your delivery.

Learn more about delivering your baby at Sibley.

Learn more about anesthesia for childbirth, including misconceptions about pain management in labor and delivery, on the Certified Anesthesia Services website.

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