"Surely they're not that... big?" Every question you've ever had about epidurals, answered.

If you're anything like us, your knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth goes as far as knowing how it happens (sexy time) and how it ends (small human).

So, when we were innocently scrolling through TikTok and came across this post about epidural needles, we had QUESTIONS.

Just look at the size of this f**cking thing:


Do you know how big epidural needles are?. The Neomedicine institute. #TrulyGlowingSelfieLove #ItWasntMe #cosmetic #foryou #fitness

♬ Ella Mai - My Way - sabinahannan

God, are the needles really THAT big? 

Looks as alluring as expired milk. On a hot day. 

Watch: Check out some the strangest pregnancy craving. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

To find out what the deal is when it comes to epidurals, we asked obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Nicole Stamatopoulos to tell us absolutely EVERYTHING we need to know, just so we can be sure/paranoid.

How do epidurals work?

First things first. What the hell do these giant horse-like tranquilizers do?

"Epidurals work by injecting a local anaesthetic into the epidural space below the level of the spinal cord. It blocks pain and temperature pathways,"  Dr Stamatopolous explains.

"You can feel touch and pressure, but you can't feel pain, heat or cold."

How long is an epidural needle?

Now for the important part. "The epidural needle is approx 15cm," confirms Dr Stamatopoulos. 

Hooly dooly.

Just to put it into perspective, that is approximately TOO BIG. 

Why is it so large? Does the whole thing go in? Pls send help, we feel faint.

"The reason is that it has to accommodate for different women of all different shapes and sizes. It shouldn't worry you how long the needle is as most of it is not involved in the procedure."

Seems legit...


So, does an epidural hurt?

Which brings us to our next question. Does an epidural hurt? Sure looks like it does. Heaps.

"The anaesthetist uses local anaesthetic before inserting the epidural so the only thing that should hurt is the local," Dr Stamatopoulos said.

Oh! Weird. We didn't expect that. Like, at all.

"If there is some pain, this is helpful to the anaesthetist because it is likely they are off midline. By telling the anaesthetist which side they feel pain, they can correct it."

When does a doctor or nurse give you an epidural?

According to Dr Stamatopoulos this giant epidural spear is usually administered when a woman is in active labour. 

For those who don't know (us) that's when you're about 4cm dialed and fully effaced (when the cervix thins out and becomes softer and shorter). Cute!

"However, if the woman is being induced, I allow the woman to have an epidural whenever she wants as we are committed to having a baby that day."

The administration usually happens between contractions, when you're sitting up or lying on your side. 

Just to give you an idea, the epidural space is near the spine in the central part of the back - this is where the pain nerves of childbirth are located. 

Weird, right?

How long does it take for an epidural to work?

How fast an epidural starts working usually depends on the kind of drugs your doctor decides are right for you. 

On average though, an epidural takes about 20 to 30 minutes to reach full effect.

How late in your labour can you request an epidural?

While it depends on the individual case, Dr Stamatopoulos said, "Technically, if the woman is fully dilated then it is not advised to have an epidural as the risks far outweigh the benefits."

So, yeah. You basically need to have it when you're 4 to 5 cm dilated and having regular contractions - cause there is a cutoff time.

Does an epidural ever fail to block the pain?

Yep. This is a thing that can happen. "Occasionally an epidural does not work," said Dr Stamatopoulos.

"It is patchy, which means most of the area is pain-free, but there is an area that is not numb. The other possibility is that it is one-sided, where it works on one side, but not the other."

Can you still push your baby out?

So, wait. If the epidural has made you feel all numb and weird from, like, the waist down - how are you meant to push? Can you push?

"Yes, you can still push your baby out. You can still feel the pressure and heaviness in the appropriate area to allow pushing."


Are there any side effects to epidurals?

Epidurals are super common, and the side effects and risks are quite low. Dr Stamatopoulos the most common side effects is what's called a post-dural puncture headache.

A puncture headache sounds 10/10 sore.

"This is a headache that won't go away because the dural layer of the spine has been punctured accidentally on insertion of the epidural. It usually does not require treatment except with pain relief, but it may require a blood patch. Another very rare risk is paralysis."

What a doctor wants you to know about epidurals.

Dr Stamatopoulos said that epidurals are often given a bad rap in childbirth, but they do have their benefits - especially for patients who have pregnancy-related health conditions. 

"Pregnant women can have medical issues and epidurals can help them. These are women with pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, heart problems and help some women relax enough to dilate."

"We are lucky to allow women the option of pain relief in labour, as this is not available in all countries. We should be grateful to have a healthcare system that allows women options in childbirth."

Feature image: Getty

Have you had an epidural before? What was your experience? Share with us in the comment section below.

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