What type of anesthesia is used for elective cesareans?

C-Section Anesthesia

Surgical team performing Caesarean section on pregnant woman.
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Question: What type of anesthesia is used for elective cesareans?


It is normal to worry about having the right amount of pain relief before having surgery. When that surgery is scheduled in advance, such as a planned cesarean, it gives you plenty of time to ponder, think, and worry about whether or not everything will work out for you in regards to pain management. The good news is that there are many types of pain relief that can be used today for birthing women, even those having a scheduled cesarean.

The answer that you receive about the best fit for the type of c-section anesthesia will depend on a couple of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Your medical history
  • Your place of birth
  • Your doctor's preference
  • If you will be expected to have a longer surgery, such as additional procedures, or a concern about scar tissue

There are two main types of anesthesia typically used: regional anesthesia, which makes an area of your body numb, like a spinal block, combined spinal epidural anesthesia (CSE) or epidural anesthesia; and general anesthesia, where you go to "sleep" for the surgery.

The regional anesthesias, like an epidural, will block pain sensation in your abdomen and near by parts. You will be wide awake during the surgery and aware of everything. You will feel pushing, pulling and tugging, but not pain. One of the regional anesthesia choices is the most common type of anesthesia for an elective cesarean section.

Additional medications can be given if you are experiencing nausea, anxiety, etc.. If you have regional anesthesia, you are typically allowed one support person to stay in the operating room with you, though some policies will differ on when they join you. Your hospital may have a policy where they allow your doula to stay for the administration of anesthesia.

Other types of regional c-section anesthesia in this category also include spinal anesthesia, combined spinal epidural anesthesia (CSE), etc.

"My husband was able to stay with me when I had my cesarean," says Amanda. "I was taken into the operating room while he changed clothes. They did the epidural while he waited outside. He was allowed to join just as the surgery was getting started. I was anxious when he wasn't with me, but I was kept company by a nurse I didn't know very well. She meant well, but it would have been nice to have him."

General anesthesia is used when your medical history or an emergency dictate that regional anesthesia is too risky or not possible. Since there are more potential risks to you and your baby using general anesthesia, it is not preferred. You usually may not have a support person with you if you have a general anesthesia.

"I was frightened when they said that I needed a general anesthesia, but it worked out well and it really felt like I closed my eyes and opened them to see my baby," says another mother.

Talk to your obstetrician about the choices that are available to you, and when possible and/or needed, ask to have a consultation with the anesthesia department prior to giving birth.


Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition.

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