When you're waiting for that glorious epidural, minutes can seem like days. You're ready for that sweet relief, and you're ready now! It's no wonder that many women nearing their due date, especially those in active labor, are frantic to find out how long it takes for an epidural to kick in. But what about after the fact, when baby is here and everything is said and done? How long does an epidural last once it's turned off? After all, when the contractions are over and the pushing is through, you'd probably like to regain the use of your legs.
First, let's go over the basics of an epidural. If you haven't had one before (or if you're on the fence about epidurals in general), it's helpful to know what exactly to expect, start to finish. The American Pregnancy Association explained, "A small area on your back will be injected with a local anesthetic to numb it. A needle is then inserted into the numbed area surrounding the spinal cord in the lower back. After that, a small tube or catheter is threaded through the needle into the epidural space." L. McLean House II, doctor of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Romper more about the specifics of an epidural. "The pain relief a laboring mother experiences with epidural anesthesia depends on what medicines are administered through this small catheter placed in between the bones of the back." Dr. House says. "Your anesthesia provider may choose to repeat a single dose, or bolus, or give a continuous infusion of local anesthetic to prolong the numbing effect of your epidural."
While many expectant moms are eager for the pain relief offered from an epidural, they also worry about the pain associated with getting that epidural. It's a logical fear – in fact, I'd be worried if someone felt totally comfortable with the idea of big needles near their spine. However, doctors administer a shot prior to inserting the epidural that will numb the area of insertion. Additionally, once you've experienced unmedicated contractions, any pain from receiving an epidural will feel like nothing – and totally worth it if you're seeking relief.
While the exact protocol varies from anesthesiologist to anesthesiologist, many doctors will decrease, or "turn off," the epidural when it comes time to push. They do this so that you can better feel the pressure of the baby's head, which in turn creates the sensation of needing to push. Once you've welcomed baby, the doctor will turn off the epidural completely, Dr. House explains.
Once the epidural is turned off, it will slowly begin wearing off. "Many moms report being able to wiggle their toes and a slow return to sensation within hours of having the epidural medications discontinued," states Very Well Family. "The amount of numbness after an epidural varies from mother to mother." It also varies depending on the specifics of your epidural (the medicine and last given dose). "The numbness can last anywhere from 30 minutes to upwards of 4 hours," Dr. House confirms.
One factor that greatly affects how quickly an epidural wears off is the type of epidural you received. There are different types of epidurals and different methods of administering epidurals which affect the recovery time, according to Ask Dr. Sears. "Low-dose epidurals" relieve some of the pain of labor, but are not as powerful as standard epidurals. As Dr. House touched on, a continuous epidural continuously infuses pain-relieving medication, while an intermittent epidural, "is injected periodically as needed, allowing mothers to juggle the level of pain they can tolerate with the degree of movement they desire." The strength of your epidural and the frequency of its administration will affect how quickly the effects fade after it's turned off.
The decision to get an epidural is a personal one. They're not one size fits all, no recovery is identical, either.