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
- 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
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.