What Does Having an Epidural Feel Like?

Today I’m going to share what you should expect from the epidural after you get it placed. While you may know it will be “numb” it’s sort of hard to know what to expect that will feel like for half your body.

pregnant woman laying in bed with an epidural with an epidural pump in front.

But first, how do I know so much about epidurals? Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse®. I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of labor and delivery experience. I’ve helped in thousands of epidurals (as well as helping patients after they’re placed) and I’ve also had three labor epidurals of my own — so I’m a great resource on this one!

What does the Epidural Feel Like?

The area may feel “numb” but most people feel like it feels “asleep”. They may still be able to feel their fingernail scratch their skin, but they wouldn’t feel it if they just brushed their leg.

A lot of people also describe it as “heavy” — and in this instance it often means that they can’t move their legs as well. Some people can’t move at all. Many won’t be able to hold their body weight with their legs (like lifting their bottom in the area), but most can still move their legs a bit.

This article is about what you’ll feel like AFTER the epidural has set-up. If you’re wondering what it feels like to get put in << check out that article.

The epidural is aimed to take away about 80% of the pain. While the epidural CAN take away 100% of pain/sensation from your bra-line to your knees there’s a few reasons we don’t want that:

  • So you can move in bed on your own, that gives you autonomy and movement is an important part of labor (even with an epidural)
  • We like for you to feel some sensation in your birth canal to know how/when to push.
  • People generally don’t love to feel ENTIRELY numb and that can cause anxiety needlessly.

If you’re loving hearing about what to expect with the epidural come join me in here. I explain the whole process (with Raggedy Ann to make it less “scary”) and talk about all your options so you’re well prepared for pain mangement AND the rest of birth.

What if you want to feel less?

Some people have felt that the 80% was too much sensation for them. If that is the case let your anesthesia provider know. There are a few causes:

  • The epidural tube may have moved and you may need it replaced (or it possibly never worked and need it replaced)
  • You need more continuous medicine to cover the pain
  • You may need a different drug to help cover it.

If you don’t feel like your epidural is working like you’d like it to make SURE you talk with anesthesia. That is an expensive procedure and you deserve to get the benefits. Be very descriptive about what you’re feeling (or have felt) to help them troubleshoot it the best they can.

Some people sometimes get a “window” of pain in an area of their abdomen that just doesn’t get covered by the epidural. Your provider can try more/different medicine but sometimes it just doesn’t get covered. It is a risk you take with the epidural.

If you’re wondering about your other options as far as pain mangement — grab my pain management — get that info here:

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What if you want to feel more?

I feel like this doesn’t get talked about enough.

You can actually say you’d like LESS medicine. Maybe you’d like to move better in bed, or push better. Ask your nurse if she can turn-down the epidural medicine. She may be able to do it on her own, or she may need to call anesthesia about it.

I talked about this a bit in my walking epidural post on my sister site.

The beauty of an epidural run through a pump is that it CAN be tailored to just what you want. If you feel too much, she can up it. In fact, in the walking epidural often they give very little medicine early on and then up it as the pain gets worse. You can still ask for that type of pain management even if they don’t offer the “walking epidural”

When I say “walking” epidural I don’t want you think you can walk the halls. A FEW places will allow you to walk to the restroom, but most often just moving more in bed or getting into a chair. Most often your legs can’ thold you long even with that type of epidural

What you WILL feel with the epidural?

The epidural doesn’t take away pressure. So, sometimes as baby moves into your pelvis you’ll feel that. Some people feel some mild pressure with the contractions (but that shouldn’t be bad). Sometimes the pressure at the end can feel very intense and that can be hard to differentiate between that intense pressure and pain.

Even in a c-section with the spinal patients will often feel the pressure of the provider pushing firmly on their uterus to expel the baby — and that is very normal.

What about the Foley catheter?

Most places put a Foley catheter in once you’re numb after the epidural. Personally, I didn’t put it in if my patient could feel me (unless there was a big reason she need it). Wanted to make sure she was nice and comfortable before I placed it.

Most often I had to help her move her legs into position to place it and they felt nothing at all. They also didn’t feel it in-dwelling or when we took it out. So, in most cases the Foley catheter isn’t an issue for you.

Wondering what 3rd trimester testing is even looking for learn more {totally free}

When will I feel “normal” after the epidural?

Most people are able to walk within 1-2 hours. Some people need more like 3…. By about hour 4 most people feel back to normal entirely. However, every person’s body deals with the medication differently, so it may be different for you. That’s just what happens in MOST cases.

What did I feel with the epidural?

Personally, each one of my epidurals felt VERY different.

My first one I was as numb as could be (and my blood pressure dropped a LOT initially).

My second I had a window on my belly which wasn’t very fun. I also had to push a long time wtih a baby that was almost 1.5 pounds bigger than my first.

On my third I had one leg that was pretty numb for 12+ hours. I felt the baby drop into my pelvis and I thought she was going to shoot out my hip bone. It was pretty intense (but didn’t last long).

Same body, different anesthesia providers. Just don’t expect every epidural to feel similarly, it seems to be an art and not always a science.

I hope this peek into the epidural helped you understand it a bit more.

If you’re interested in knowing more about pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum life in simple, easy to understand ways — come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. It truly is the EASY way to get prepared for ALL of that. I can’t wait to see you in there!

This class really helped prepare my wife and I before our first child.

Or, if you’re not quite ready for the full class, check out my free prenatal class — It’s your first step towards being your own birth boss.

Originally Posted Here

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