A variety of methods can be used to control pain during labor and delivery of a baby. Two methods that involve inserting pain medication into or around the spinal cord are an epidural and a spinal.
The spine is the column of bone that runs down the center of your back. It is made up of many bones called vertebrae that interconnect with spongy discs in between to keep them from rubbing together. Each piece of bone in the spine has a hole in the middle. The spinal cord is located in the center of the spine inside the hole in each of the bones. If you think of beads strung together on a piece of string, the bones in the spine are the beads and the spinal cord is the string in the middle. The spinal cord is made up of nerves that connect directly to the brain through the bottom of your skull. The other ends of the nerves branch out from the spinal cord to every part of your body. These nerves provide the sense of feeling and allow signals to go from the brain to the muscles and organs to control them.
An epidural is an injection of pain medication that is given into the sac surrounding the spinal cord. During an epidural procedure, you will first get a shot to numb the skin on your back near the spine. The doctor will insert a large needle into the skin and between two of the bones in your spine, stopping before he reaches the spinal cord. The needle is used to insert a small plastic tube into the space around the spinal cord. This tube, which is called a catheter, can remain in place during the rest of your labor. Pain medication is injected through the tube into the lining around the spine. It usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes for the pain medication to start to work. Because the catheter is left in place, the doctor is able to give you more pain medication as you need it. This method allows your pain to be controlled for the entire time you are in labor.
A spinal is similar to an epidural in that the doctor will first numb your back and then insert a needle into your spine. But a spinal is different in that the needle used for a spinal is very tiny.