Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Childbirth: Epidurals

Childbirth: Epidurals

Treatment Overview

An epidural for childbirth, called an "epidural" for short, is a tiny tube that puts pain medicine directly into the area in your back around your spinal cord. This area is called the epidural space.

An epidural can be used during childbirth to partly or fully numb the lower body. The amount of medicine you get will affect how numb you are. For labor and vaginal birth, a low dose of medicine is often used to decrease pain. But it often will allow enough feeling and muscle strength so that you can push during contractions. For a cesarean birth (C-section), a higher dose can be used to help block all feeling. The epidural allows you to be awake for the birth.

You probably won't be able to walk while you have an epidural.

For some women, the medicine may slow down labor. For others, it has no effect on the length of labor. In some cases, it may make labor go faster.

It often takes about 10 minutes for the pain medicine to start to work. It may take 20 to 30 minutes to get the full effect.

The medicine is not likely to affect your baby.

How It Is Done

How It Is Done

Placement of an epidural catheter for labor
Epidural catheter in place

Epidural anesthesia involves putting a sterile guide needle and a small tube (epidural catheter) into the space around the spinal cord (epidural space). The epidural catheter is placed at or below the waist.

The guide needle is inserted and removed, while the catheter remains in place. The catheter is taped in place up the center of your back and at the top of your shoulder.

Medicine is injected into the catheter to numb your body below the insertion site. This will help relieve pain during labor and birth.

What To Expect

What To Expect

The epidural catheter may be removed right after delivery. The numbness and muscle weakness in your legs will probably wear off within 2 hours after the epidural medicine is stopped. You may find that it's hard to urinate until all the medicine has worn off. Your back may be sore. You may have a small bruise at the catheter site. This usually gets better in 1 or 2 days. In rare cases, an epidural may cause a headache that gets worse when you sit or stand. Tell your doctor if you get a headache after your epidural. Your doctor can treat it.

Side Effects

Side Effects

The most common side effect from an epidural is that it can lower the mother's blood pressure.

Less common side effects may include a severe headache after delivery, problems urinating or walking after delivery, and a fever. A rare side effect is a seizure.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Labor and Delivery Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details