What Happens After an Epidural in Labor

Postpartum Pain Relief

A nurse holding a mom in labor while she gets an epidural.
Photo © BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

In childbirth class or hospital classes you may learn a lot about epidural anesthesia. They will probably tell you all about the risks and the benefits. You will probably learn how and when it can be administered. You might even see the procedure or talk to an anesthesiologist about the procedure, but chances are the information you receive in class will end when the epidural is placed or shortly thereafter.

Many moms have questions about the epidural procedure and its effects after the birth. Here are some of the answers to those questions.

When will the epidural catheter be removed?

Typically the epidural catheter will be removed an hour or two after the birth of your baby. This is typically not painful, but may feel strange as the epidural catheter is pulled from your back. Many moms report the removal of all the tape to be more painful than the removal of the epidural catheter.

If you gave birth via cesarean surgery, occasionally the epidural catheter will stay in for a few more hours to help provide you with pain relief after the surgery. Your anesthesiologist can also place medications like Duramorph into the epidural catheter to help provide pain relief even after the epidural catheter is removed. This medication will not cause numbing like the typical epidural medications will cause.

If you are having a tubal ligation, your tubes tied, after you give birth, the epidural will stay in place until after your surgery.

Your epidural catheter may be removed by the anesthesiologist or nurse.

How long will I be numb from the epidural?

Many moms report being able to wiggle their toes and a slow return to sensation within hours of having the epidural medications discontinued. The amount of numbness after an epidural varies from mother to mother.

Part of what you will need to factor into this answer will be what type of epidural you had - continuous or bolus. If you had the continuous flow epidural, once it is turned off you can usually have full sensation back with six hours of birth. A bolus type of epidural will depend on when the last dose of medication was given.

Some women experience tingling, shaking, numbness and other sensations in their legs during this period or after. It can be perfectly normal, but you do need to report it to your nurse.

When will the bladder catheter be removed?

Your bladder catheter will be removed just before the birth of the baby's head. If you have problems urinating after birth you may have to have the catheter placed back into your bladder to help you until you can successfully urinate on your own consistently. It is important that your bladder remain empty. Some women have more trouble with this because of the epidural medications and numbing or because of damage done to the bladder with the bladder catheter.

This is usually very temporary.

What can I expect to feel once the epidural wears off?

Of course! You can also expect to feel very sore once the medications wear off. I encourage you to begin taking medications that your doctor or midwife has prescribed as soon as you can, preferably before the epidural medications wear off. With an epidural you are more likely to have had an additional intervention which may make postpartum more painful. Start with the non-narcotics and see if they help your pain level, reserve the "big guns" for later.

You may find that your lower body is stiff or sore. This is frequently because your muscles are stiff from remaining in the same position for a long time during your labor. This happens because you usually are unaware of the position you are in because your legs and lower body are numbed from the medication. Simple stretching and time will generally be all that is needed to help change this. You may also feel this because of extra expulsive efforts due to your inability to feel.

Get up and walk as soon as you can to help you feel more in control of your body. This can really help change your physical and emotional feelings about your body. This also speeds recovery.

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