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Does getting an epidural hurt?

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By Livia Gamble

Pain relief is top of mind for mums who are about to give birth. The epidural is often a last resort, but is also the most effective. So what does it feel like to have an epidural? Does it hurt?

Speaking to Tell Me Baby for our TMB TV series, Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond, Tylah McConnell, who is a midwife based in Sydney, said many mums are worried about an epidural hurting. 

“The worst part is the setup”

“That’s an excellent question and a common fear,” says Tylah. “Everyone thinks about this massive needle that goes in your back, and it’s going to be this traumatic thing. 

“But I have to say the worst part about the epidural is the setup. The insertion time is really quick – we’re talking minutes. It’s making sure the back is sterile and staying in position while you have those contractions – that’s the most difficult part.”

Tylah says that if you have already planned to have an epidural, a nurse will put a cannula in your hand when you arrive at the hospital. 

“The epidural is no worse than the cannula,” she says. “And before they actually insert the epidural needle, they give you a local anaesthetic, so that all you’re dealing with is that little tiny sting from the local anaesthetic, not the actual needle that goes into your back.”

The procedure

Pregnancy Birth and Baby says that after the back is sterilised, a needle will be inserted between the bones of your spine in between your contractions, when you can stay still. 

“A small soft plastic tube will be inserted, and the needle will be removed. That tube delivers the anaesthetic that will numb your pain,” they say.

“It usually takes between 5 and 30 minutes for your pain to be relieved by the epidural.”

“Watching this just makes me so proud”

For some mums-to-be, it might help to see exactly what happens when an epidural is administered. 

The video below, shared on the Tiny Hearts Education Instagram page, shows a woman receiving an epidural during labour.

“What you’re looking at here is an epidural being administered during labour,” they wrote.

The video has been viewed over 13,000 times, with many saying the footage was incredible to watch. 

“Watching this just makes me so proud of whoever that courageous woman is! And all the women out there who have had epidurals! It blows my mind that you have to sit that still, potentially mid contraction, to get that needle in the right position. Women are friggen amazing,” said one person.

Another commenter said they hadn’t seen an epidural before. 

“I did not know this is what an epidural looked like.”

But for some, the thought of having an epidural was too much.

“I’m sorry, but no way! Give me all the pain over this any day,” said another. 

“Unless you’re crowning, you can get an epidural”

While every birth is different, the key to pain relief is knowledge. If you’re pregnant and not sure what levels of pain relief you would like, do your own research. You know your body better than anyone, once you have all the information, you can make an informed decision. 

The best part is that it’s always okay to change your mind. 

“Unless you’re crowning, you can get an epidural,” says Tylah. “It might be discouraged if you’ve made it to nine or 10 centimetres, and you’re almost there – it’s almost a much easier process for you just to push that baby out.

“That being said, you should never be denied pain relief. Yes, someone might not recommend it, but you still have a right to that.”

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