Labour Pain Relief Options: Epidural

An epidural is considered the most effective form of pain relief for labour.

Pain is part of the labour process, but there are many options for pain management. Everybody has different pain tolerances and different desires for their birth so it is entirely your decision whether you would like to have any medical pain relief or not. Here, we discuss epidurals for labour in New Zealand.


What is an epidural?

A local anaesthetic that is injected into the lower back via a tiny epidural catheter tube. This stays in place for the duration of labour and can be topped up with more anaesthetic when required.


How does it work?

The anaesthetist will inject the anaesthetic via the epidural catheter into a particular space in the spine where there are lots of nerves. It works by temporarily blocking the pain receptors in the spine to the brain.

It takes around 20-30 minutes to take full effect.


Side effects

  • You may experience leg weakness or numbness.
  • You may experience low blood pressure which can be managed via the IV line.
  • Headaches, nerve injury, and infections are extremely rare.


Benefits of an epidural

  • The most effective type of pain relief in labour.
  • A midwife can administer top-ups.


Disadvantages to an epidural

  • Can only be administered by an anaesthetist which may require you to wait if they aren’t immediately available.
  • You will need to have a catheter put in as you may lose the urge to pass urine.
  • You will need to have an IV line put in.
  • You will be required to stay in bed.
  • You will be required to have continuous fetal heart rate monitoring.
  • Occasionally it doesn’t completely work effectively and may need to be adjusted.



Hospital only.

The drugs in an epidural work by stopping pain signals from your spinal nerves – very little crosses the placenta, making it safe for you and your baby.