What is Anesthesia During Childbirth?

While some women give birth without anesthesia, you may find that anesthesia gives you better control over your labor and delivery experience.

When you go into labor, you may experience pain caused by uterine muscle contractions and pressure on your cervix. You may also feel your baby pressing on your bladder and bowels, as well as pain from stretching of the birth canal and vagina during delivery.

Contractions feel different for each woman. From a discomfort in your back to pressure in your pelvis, you may feel waves of cramps. While the intense pain may be manageable, it is because of the length of time and persistent nature of this pain that women may choose anesthesia for pain relief. Your pain may be affected by a variety of factors, including:

  • The size and position of your baby
  • The strength of contractions

Our Obstetric Anesthesia Providers

We believe your birthing experience should be as unique as your newborn. Whether you plan to use anesthesia or your plans change unexpectedly, our obstetrical anesthesia team works around-the-clock to minimize your pain during childbirth. We also offer pain relief techniques following delivery, should you need them.

Our collaborative approach ensures we provide pain relief that is safe for both you and your baby. When you give birth at MedStar, you can expect compassionate care from a team of providers, including:

  • Obstetrical anesthesiologists
  • Certified anesthetists
  • Obstetricians
  • Neonatologists
  • Labor and delivery nurses

What to Expect

Throughout your pregnancy, we can help you understand your pain relief options so you can make informed decisions about managing your pain when it’s time to deliver. Our obstetrical anesthesia team can answer all of your questions about the following types of pain relief during childbirth:

  • Sedatives can be injected into a vein or muscle to dull labor pain. They may make you sleepy and will help you conserve your energy during labor.
  • General Anesthesia for delivery is rare but may be used in the event of an emergency C-section.
  • Local Anesthesia may be used to numb a small area such as your back prior to an epidural.
  • Regional Anesthesia is the most common type of pain relief that reduces discomfort during childbirth by numbing nerves in your lower abdominal and pelvis through an epidural. An epidural requires your anesthesia provider to place a thin tube, called a catheter, in your back. The tube remains there throughout labor so your care team can deliver medicine as you need it. Your lower body will start to feel numb within 10 to 20 minutes and you will experience minimal pain throughout delivery.

Learn More About Types of Anesthesia

Questions to Ask Your Anesthesia Team

As you prepare for childbirth, our obstetrical anesthesia team will help you understand safe and effective methods for minimizing your pain during labor and delivery. To ease your mind, you may want to ask your anesthesia team questions, such as:

  1. How will pain affect my baby?
  2. What kind of anesthesia works best for my case?
  3. When is anesthesia for childbirth given?
  4. What are my risks?

Core Faculty

Maggie Coppinger, M.D. Division Chief