Let’s discuss some of the questions you might have about regional anesthesia. As many of you have learned, regional anesthesia includes epidural and spinal anesthesia. Some women are concerned about whether or not the anesthetic will be safe for their baby. The good news is that the small amounts of pain relievers injected into the epidural or spinal space do not get into your bloodstream very quickly. This means that only very tiny amounts of the anesthetic actually get into your baby’s bloodstream.
One question asked frequently is “when will it be too late for me to decide that I want some pain medication?” Well, the decision of when to place an epidural is one that you’ll make together with your providers and your anesthesiologist. In general, women receive an epidural or spinal anesthetic when they’re in active labor, dilated from four to seven centimeters, and having regular, forceful contractions.
Technically, it’s never "too late" to have an epidural. However it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to place the catheter and another 10 to 20 minutes for the medicine to take effect. If you’re dilated too far and your baby is close to being born, there may not be enough time to get this kind of pain relief in place.