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What You Need To Know About A Spinal Block Versus An Epidural, According To Experts

During pregnancy, you may run into a shortage of patience, energy, and your will to not eat an entire half gallon of ice cream, but one thing you can always count on? Other people's suggestions. Whether it's breastfeeding versus bottles, reasons to try a home birth, or why an epidural is a major no-no, friends and random strangers alike will have plenty of tidbits for you. While some of it might be helpful, most of it — like what you need to know about a spinal block versus an epidural — should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

"Women don't usually have the choice between a spinal and an epidural; they tend to be offered based on medical need," Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and Fellow of American College of Childbirth Educators (FACCE) Deena Blumenfeld of Shining Light Prenatal Education tells Romper in an email interview.

Blumenfeld explains that a spinal block is a single, fast acting dose of medication. "It is injected to the spine and it lasts about two hours. A mother's legs will be numb and immobile because the dose is heavy," she says, adding that spinals are commonly used for cesareans since patients should not move during the surgery.

On the other hand, an epidural is a constant drip of medication into the spine through a catheter, Blumenfeld says. "Mothers will still have limited mobility in their legs during labor, allowing for better comfort and re-positioning. The lower dose also means mothers can feel when they need to push. This means mothers can push effectively with their epidurals."

In short, Blumenfeld notes that a spinal block would mean the mother is numb and immobile from the waist down, while an epidural grants her limited movement and sensation to "better work with her contractions while reducing pain to a great degree."

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Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, explains that an anesthesiologist will be the doctor who decides whether a woman receives a spinal block versus an epidural. Like Blumenfeld, Ross tells Romper in an email interview that a spinal block is "a one-time dose and shorter acting" solution for a procedure like a C-section, while a longer-acting epidural is typically reserved for those in labor and having a vaginal delivery.

So, while it sounds like the decision of spinal block versus epidural is not in your hands, staying informed is. Because if there's one thing I know for sure it's that pregnancy and birth open all of the doors to the unexpected. Which, perhaps, is the most important measure of "preparation" you can take.