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The Truth About Walking Epidurals

The majority of women who deliver a baby each year opt for pain relief. Many choose a walking or low-dose epidural, believing that they'll be able to pace the halls during their pain-free contractions. But that's not always the case. "A walking epidural is really a misnomer. The majority of women who have one aren't getting out of bed," says Linda Mayberry, R.N., Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at New York University. Below are the three most popular options for labor pain relief. All have the following drawbacks: The anesthesia may lower your blood pressure, which can slow the baby's heart rate; contractions may be slowed, in which case Pitocin (a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin) may be used to stimulate them; increased monitoring such as blood pressure and fetal monitoring is required; and sometimes a bad headache may set in.


Anesthesia, such as bupivacaine or lidocaine, is injected through a catheter into the space around the spine.The catheter remains in place, so additional doses can be given throughout labor.


  • Pain is nearly eliminated, and you'll remain alert
  • Relief is lasting because catheter remains in place
  • Anesthesia does not enter the baby's bloodstream


  • Anesthesia can take up to 20 minutes to kick in
  • You won't be able to walk
  • Since the lower body is numb, it may be difficult to push during delivery