Labour Pain Relief: Epidural vs Spinal Block

Having a baby is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Before you can feel the excitement of holding your little one in your arms, there’s the hard work of labour that you need to go through. There’s one part of delivery that no woman looks forward to – and that’s labour pain. Expecting a baby is also about expecting the pain that comes with your body getting ready for delivery. While every woman goes through different pain levels, you need to discuss your pain management options with your doctor. That’s when an epidural and spinal block are bound to come up. This article compares the two to help make your decision easier.

Administering an Epidural or Spinal Block

Both are delivered to provide pain relief during childbirth, and the procedure is administered similarly. This is what you can expect regardless of which one you choose:

  • You will be asked to lie down on your left side or sit down while arching your back to make it easier to insert the needle.
  • An antiseptic solution will be applied to reduce the chances of infection.
  • Using a fine needle, your anesthesiologist will give you a local anesthetic.
  • Then a thicker needle will be used to deliver the epidural or spinal block
  • Sedatives may also accompany this to help relax you

The difference in administering these pain relief medications is about where the injection is given. A spinal block is injected into the dural sac that contains cerebrospinal fluid, giving it direct access to the spinal cord and nerves. On the other hand, an epidural is injected into the epidural space that surrounds the spinal cord.

Epidural vs Spinal Block


A needle will be inserted into your lower back to get access to the epidural space. A catheter is then threaded through the needle, and once it’s in place, the needle is removed. This process will take about 10-15 minutes, and you can expect to feel the pain relief in another 10-15 minutes. With the catheter in place, you can receive additional doses of anesthesia.

Spinal Block

This is administered as a single shot into the dural sac. You will immediately feel the pain relief, which is expected to last for about an hour or two.

When Is An Epidural Better Than A Spinal Block?

When it comes to your first pregnancy, the doctor may suggest an epidural. This is because labour can last for longer, and hence the pain during the whole period can be relieved by additional shots of the anesthesia.

When Is A Spinal Block Better Than An Epidural?

If there are complications during birth, or if you need to have a C-section, your doctor may advise a spinal block to give you immediate relief.

The Risk Involved in Epidurals and Spinal Blocks

When choosing between the two, the risk factor won’t play a role as it involves the same amount of risk. The doctor will closely monitor you, as the anesthetics can affect your central nervous system, cardiovascular system or respiratory system.

It’s important to discuss these pain relief options with your doctor as you approach D-day. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons with your doctor and discussed your history, you can make an informed decision. However, always remember that plans can change, so be prepared and keep yourself open to both options. Have a safe delivery!