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An epidural is a local anaesthetic which is administered into a fine catheter in your back. It is an effective form of pain relief in labour and, most of the time, an epidural gives complete pain relief. It is especially useful if your labour is long or complicated and if your baby needs close monitoring.

An epidural must be administered by an anaesthetist. A drip will be placed in your hand for fluids if you require them. You will be asked to sit down and lean forward or lie on your side with your knees close to your chest. You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area where the epidural will be inserted. A needle is then used to insert a fine plastic tube (epidural catheter) into your spine near the nerves that carry pain messages to your brain. The needle is then removed, leaving the catheter in your spine so that pain relief medication can be administered through the catheter. The epidural can take 20-30 minutes to begin to work.  

The catheter will remain in place until you have given birth. When the epidural stops it can sometimes take a few hours for the effects to wear off.