Spinal Block

A spinal block is not often used in labor anymore.

A spinal block is sometimes called a “spinal.” In this procedure, a narcotic or anesthetic such as fetanyl, bupivacaine or lidocaine is injected below the spinal column directly into the spinal fluid to provide pain relief for as long as 2 hours.

It is easy to confuse a spinal block and spinal epidural because they are both injections into the spinal area. For a spinal block, narcotics or anesthetic is injected once with a needle. For a spinal epidural or combined spinal epidural, a catheter is placed in the epidural space to allow continuous anesthesia. Spinal blocks are not widely administered today because of the preference for epidurals. However, they can be used in a more complex birth situation or a cesarean delivery.

What you need to know about a spinal block

A spinal block may cause one or more of the following conditions:

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Difficulty pushing during the second stage of labor
  • Severe headache requiring an epidural blood patch
  • Dizziness
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • In rare instances, convulsions
  • Both narcotics and “caine” medications cross the placenta and enter the baby’s blood stream
  • Baby might have trouble breastfeeding after birth
Last Updated: 12/2006

Compiled using information from the following sources:

William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 19.

Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Ninth Ed. Scott, James R., et al, Ch. 3.

Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Part 2.

Ransjo-Arvidson A et al. Maternal analgesia during labor disturbs newborn behavior: effects on breastfeeding, temperature, and crying. Birth 28(1):5-12.