If you have planned an epidural, an anaesthetist will come and see you shortly after your arrival at hospital. When you reach around 5cm dilation (sometimes a little more), he will numb your spinal area and inject an anaesthetic. A very fine catheter will be left in place so that more drugs can be injected if need be and you won’t feel anything below the waist from then on.
Try not to worry about it. Contrary to what women often think and the horror stories you’ve probably heard, an epidural shouldn’t involve an injection into your bone marrow! It is a the injection of a local anaesthetic into the space between your vertebrae and the covering of the spinal cord, via a tiny tube, which stays taped to your back and over one shoulder so that more medication can be administered as need be, using a pump. As soon as the drug has been injected, your pain will disappear, but unless a heavy anaesthetic has been administered you will still feel the urge to push and the baby moving down the birth canal. Your legs will probably also be numbed and you may be able to control how much anaesthetic you take by using the pump yourself. Properly used, an epidural is a great pain relief technique, allowing mothers to relax and concentrate on the birth itself.
Once you’ve had the epidural, if surgical intervention is needed during the birth, like an episiotomy or forceps, you won’t need another anaesthetic. Be aware that an epidural can dull contractions and that the midwife and doctors will have to tell you when to push and generally ‘manage’ your birth for you. Trust what they say and remember what you’ve been taught at your antenatal classes.