Pain Relief for Labour

PDF available: Epidurals – Patient Information Leaflet
Translations: Arabic (عربي), Chinese (Simplified, 中国人), Chinese (Traditional, 中國人), Farsi (فارسی), Hindi (हिंदी), Japanese (日本), Korean (한국인)


Although having a baby is a natural process, it can be uncomfortable. Every woman is different and every birth experience is unique, so the need for pain relief varies. Please discuss all the pain relieving options suitable for you with your doctor or midwife.

There are multiple options for pain relief in labour. The most common include:

  • Non-medical, eg. water birth, TENS, aromatherapy, relaxation techniques
  • Medical, eg. nitrous oxide gas, strong pain relieving injections
  • Epidural analgesia


Advantages of an epidural

  • Gold standard of pain relief for labour
  • Provides excellent pain relief
  • Does not affect your baby
  • Can be topped up and made stronger if you require a Caesarean section

Side effects / risks of an epidural


  • Slight discomfort during insertion
  • Shivering
  • Low blood pressure
  • Back discomfort for 1-2 days

Uncommon / rare:

  • Infection
  • Headache ~ 1 in 100
  • Temporary nerve injury ~ 1 in 10,000
  • Permanent nerve injury ~ 1 in over 200,000

placement of your epidural

If you decide you would like an epidural in labour please discuss this early with your midwife. The on-call Anaesthetist will be contacted as soon as your decision is made, however there are occasions where there might be a short delay if another epidural or procedure is being performed on the unit.

The placement of your epidural will occur in your birth room. You will have an IV cannula placed in your arm with fluids running. We will monitor your baby continuously.

You will be asked to sit on the side of the bed whilst the epidural is placed. Local anaesthetic will be injected into your back to numb your skin. Then a fine plastic tube (catheter) is placed through the epidural needle. This will be secured to your back with adhesive dressings.

The epidural is slowly topped up with pain relieving medication, and it takes effect over a 10-30 minute period. We will perform regular blood pressure measurements throughout this time to make sure that you and your baby stay safe. As the epidural starts to take effect you might notice that your legs and feet feel warm and tingly, and you might feel a small amount of numbness in your legs.

Once the epidural is working well we attach your epidural catheter to a Patient Controlled Epidural Analgesia (PCEA) machine. This allows you to control your own pain relief. Your midwife and Anaesthetist will explain how to use the PCEA device.

The epidural catheter will be removed after your baby is born. The effect wears off after 2-3 hours. An Anaesthetist will visit you the next day to check on your recovery.

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