You’re planning on getting an epidural (or considering it) but you’re sort of wondering how long your legs will be numb and could the epidural maybe wear off DURING your labor if you get it too early? Today I’m going to share the fact that the epidural normally lasts as long as we want it to. Once we turn it off it lasts another 1-2 hours. BUT there’s some good things to know about how it will feel both during labor and after, so keep reading!
But how do I know so much about epidurals (great question, because you definitely don’t want to get this information from someone who has only seen a few births). 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 had thousands of patients on epidurals. I’ve seen how it affects them both during labor and after we turn the epidural off — so I’m an expert on this one!
How long does it take for the labor epidural to wear off?
Normally it takes 1-2 hours.
The epidural most often runs through a “pump” similar to an IV pump (you won’t see it “drip” though). When you have your baby (or when they’re done with your repair) we turn it off. We also remove the epidural tubing once you’re in a safe spot to have it removed (wondering more about the epidural injection and placement process — learn more in this post).
Pro Tip: The epidural is placed by someone in anesthesia — either an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist. Not by your obstetric provider or the nurse.
From there it really depends on how well your body processes the medication and removes it from your system. That can vary in people but usually it’s 1-2 hours.
If you’ve ever been numbed at the dentist, this wears off similarly that the feeling will slowly come back (and if it takes a long time for dental to wear off for you, it might take a bit for the epidural to wear off too).
Most hospitals will try to get you up to pee within 1-2 hours after birth too. If your legs aren’t steady enough they can use some devices that will help you get to the toilet without putting weight on your legs (we used one called Sara Steady that is sort of like a wheelchair with butt flaps).
It’s imoportant that you try to keep your bladder from getting full after delivery as it can increase your chance of bleeding (which is bad).
BTW, if you’re loving this “behind the door” look at labor rooms, come join me in here — TONS of info like this in there (and it won’t overwhelm you).
Can the epidural “wear off” during labor?
The epidural anesthetic is definitely not meant to wear off during labor. BUT it can stop working for one reason or another. It can be a kink in the catheter (tube), or it may have moved out of your epidural space. The epidural provider will need to come in and assess how it’s working and decide what to do next.
I have a whole post on what to do if your epidural isn’t working.
Pro tip: Sometimes you have to get a bit feisty with anesthesia and tell them you want it fixed. Sometimes they just say it’s “pressure” but if it is too much pain for you be sure to say that it is too much and you need it fixed. Just know the fix may be to be to replace it.
The epidural can actually be used in a C-section if necessary (although usually that is a spinal), so if they use the right epidural medication it can make you more numb or give you the pain management that you need.
While we’re here –grab my pain management options right here (because there’s more than just the epidural):
While the idea of the epidural needle again may not be exciting for you, remember they will again inject local anesthetic when you have it placed. If you have a lot of labor left — replacement of it may be will worth the pain relief the epidural during labor can provide.
As with anything communicating with your team so that you can get what you need is SO important — which is why I have a bonus video in here that talks about how you can talk with them.
Sometimes being extra specific about what you’re feeling can help anesthesia figure out the problem too.
Remember, the epidural is really only meant to take about 80% of the pain. You’re not looking for total numbness. You still want to feel something so that you can move yourself in bed and push effectively. I have a whole post on the walking epidural that talks more about what you can ask for.
If you have questions about the epidural please come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. We have a whole chapter on the epidural, as well as one on natural pain management techniques that can help you mange the pain of labor well. I even have a video where I go through the epidural process with Raggedy Anne Doll so it’s not scary, but you’ll know what to expect.
Or, if you’re not quite ready for the full class, you can grab a free lesson from it here — lots of great info about your final trimester in that lesson. Plus, you’ll be able to see if we’re a good fit for each other!