"Labor anesthesia is a broad term for any anesthetic granted to a practice patient for the purpose of delivering a baby. Usually this will be in the form of a labor epidural for a vaginal delivery or a spinal anesthetic if a cesarean section is necessary or anticipated. In rare circumstances, general anesthesia, with the mom going completely to sleep, for a cesarean section will be necessary. Usually a local anesthetic is administered through an epidural or spinal that will numb the mom's sensation for pain from the belly down and control the pain of contractions and or numb the mom so she doesn't feel anything during the cesarean section. In rare circumstances, general anesthesia might be necessary to deliver the baby. Usually this happens when a baby's not co-operative and needs to be delivered very quickly, not allowing time for placement of an epidural or spinal. Labor epidurals can be administered at any time during labor, up to a certain point.
Every mom is different and some prefer to wait longer before asking for the epidural and others get the epidural as soon as they walk into the hospital. There is no right or wrong answer. Your obstetrician will usually guide you making that decision. However, once you're fully dilated, it's usually too late to receive an epidural, as the epidural will not work in time for the delivery. And mom usually can sit still to receive the epidural. If your obstetrician feels she could be at high-risk for a cesarean section, for sample after a prior cesarean section, he or she might ask you to get an epidural early. So an anesthetic is in place in case you need to have a repeat ceasarean section."
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