Why do Epidurals not work for some People?

Epidural vs Natural

So lately I’ve been struggling with a very important issue when it comes to delivery. I am on the fence as to whether or not I should have an epidural. On the West Coast and especially in Utah it is very common for most women to opt to get an epidural for delivery. I myself received an epidural for my labor with Jackson and was planning to have one when I delivered Jayne as well. Each birthing story is a little different and you never know what you are going to get. With Jackson I was induced because of being pre-eclamptic. My labor was induced at about 1 pm in the afternoon and I delivered him the next morning. During that time I was given an epidural and it was just okay. Right after receiving the epidural I felt like a champ and was so excited that my epidural was working. Then as the labor progressed it wasn’t working quite as well. I used the pump that they give you to administer more medication and the anisethiologist even came back and put two direct doses into my line to help ward of the pain but it didn’t do a whole lot. I will say in the last 15-20 minutes or so of my labor it did kick back in (thankfully) and I was able to enjoy the last part of my labor without too much pain.

Fast forward a few years and I had spontaneous labor with my water breaking 12 days early with Jayne. It was New Years Eve and to our surprise we were heading to the hospital to deliver our baby girl. I was hooked up to an IV immediately but wanted to experience labor for a bit before getting an epidural. When I was dilated to a 4-5 I decided it was time to ask for an epidural because I progress rather quickly when I get to that point. I rang for the nurse and she came in to tell me that I was out of luck because the one anesthesiologist they had working that day was stuck in a c-section and would be busy for an hour. She reassured me that things should be fine because this was only my second baby and he would be done before I would know it. Well, in that hour things changed A LOT. I was surprised by how similar my contractions were to the time I delivered Jackson when I HAD an epidural. They felt almost exactly the same! I can do this, I thought as I progressed to a 6-7. I thought by the time I got to an eight the anesthesiologist would be ready to help me out but he was still stuck in surgery. I was progressing very quickly and all the nurse could do for me was shoot a drug into the IV that made me dizzy and light headed (a lot like the feeling you get when you are being gassed at the dentist.) It did nothing for the pain. Because I was expecting to receive an epidural I was strapped to the bed with NO movement and no tools in my belt as far as coping with the pain in ways that you see women doing in birthing videos:  swaying, taking a bath, taking a shower, bouncing on a delivery ball, and using meditative breathing techniques. NOTHING. I was NOT prepared to get through this pain. When I was at a 9? the anesthesiologist shows up and asked if I wanted to receive an epidural or not. By that point I was in the thick of it and really couldn’t think straight. I told Paul to make the decision for me. Poor guy, Paul is so supportive and amazing but he gets woozy at just the sight of blood, needles, and painful looking situations. He said, “Let’s try it.” So we tried. Right after he was done placing the catheter I was told it was time to roll over and push but I wasn’t ready. I was so tired and so hoping for some relief. The anesthesiologist waited by and said, “you should be feeling some relief soon” to which I replied in an animalistic manner “IT IS WORSE THAN EVER!” It was working at all. It was time to push. They took the catheter out realizing by that point it was too late for the medicine to work its magic. This is when things became REALLY hard. You hear about the “RING OF FIRE” well, Johnny Cash was right when he says it “BURNS, BURNS, BURNS.” This was the point of my labor that I knew my epidural HAD worked with Jackson because this pain was insane. I am ever so grateful that I had a nurse that got in my face and helped me get through this part of my laboring. She was like a drill sergeant yelling “You can do this! We need TWO more BIG pushes….” I was physically wiped out. Jayne was sunny side up but thankfully came through in 10 minutes. I don’t know how much longer I could go. Once she was born I literally could not lift up my arms. They didn’t give her right to me because her face was bruised and they thought she wasn’t breathing well. But even five minutes later when she was wrapped up and ready to go I couldn’t hold her. My blood pressure had dropped so low they thought I was passing out. After the initial recovery of just relaxing for a while I started to feel much better and was shocked when they welcomed me to get out of bed and walk to the wheel chair. WhAT?! Oh, yeah, I wasn’t numb and it was great. The trauma of being unprepared kept me up most of that first night. My mind and body kept replaying the scenes over and over in my head again of the unexpected marathon it just went through. So why would I ever consider to go natural again?

This is why:

*My epidural only partially worked with Jackson

*Maybe if I were prepared for natural child birth it would be a much different experience

*pain medication doesn’t work well for me: I awoke when having my wisdom teeth removed, when I had surgery on my hand I felt everything and they doctor was SHOCKED and said I should have been put out.

*What if epidurals just don’t work for me?

I decided to research it on my own and through my study have found that the main two reasons that an epidural doesn’t work is because the placement is wrong or it is given too late. Of course there are situations for some with rods in their backs or scar tissue that the medicine may be prevented from traveling down the spinal fluid as it should. I decided to ask an expert, my friend’s husband Ryan who is a practicing anesthesiologist. I asked him if perhaps epidurals don’t work for some and this was his response:

“Hey…sorry to hear about your bad experiences with epidurals. As far as your experience with Jayne goes, I can tell you that getting an epidural to work when a woman is in the very late stages of labor can be very, very difficult (if not impossible). So that does not surprise me. As far as some women being more “resistant” to epidurals…that sounds more like a bad anesthesiologist’s excuse for a bad epidural. Now every person is different — yes, some women will require more medication than others. But I’ve never had a properly placed epidural simply not work. So I think the skill of the anesthesiologist has more to do with whether or not the epidural works than does how “resistant” the woman is…does that make sense? And it is strange…I have partners that struggle with these things and are ten years into their practice. Anyway, before you abandon all hope, there is an option you can ask for, and it is what I do for every single epidural I place. It is called a combined spinal epidural. I won’t bore you with the anatomy (please look it up if you’re interested). But basically you inject a small amount of medication directly into the cerebrospinal fluid right before inserting the epidural catheter. There are several advantages to this: 1) injection of the medication into the CSF provides immediate pain relief (it is essentially a “spinal” — what we use for c-sections — it sets up in seconds and 2) it pretty much guarantees that the epidural catheter will be inserted in the right spot (again, check out the anatomy if you’re interested). It is a great “alternative” and you should definitely request it (if the guy says he “doesn’t do those” then I would say the chance of your epidural working will be slim). It is a simple procedure and every anesthesiologist should be familiar with it and willing to do it if requested (especially given your history).”

When I asked him about some being more resistant this is what he said, “Well there definitely are people that have a higher requirement for pain medication, local anesthetics, etc. it sounds like you are one of those people. Redheads have been shown to have a higher requirement for anesthesia than other people (seriously). So that definitely is a “thing.” But as far as being resistant altogether — no. For example, if you decided to get an epidural and went the combined spinal epidural route, you would definitely be comfortable after that initial injection of local anesthetic (assuming the guy injects the right amount). Now after that wears off, you might require a higher rate on your epidural infusion than most women, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get you comfortable.”

So there you have it…with all of this being said I have also been researching natural child birth and will share some of what I have found about that here as well. What are your thoughts and experiences with epidurals vs. natural? Please comment and tell me about it!


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  • Jenny

    I’ve had three kids and I’ve tried to have epidurals each time. Once I was too late for the epidural and had to go natural. I’m all for the the drugs. Why suffer any more than you have to?ReplyCancel

  • Julie

    I had an epidural after laboring with my first for nearly 15 hours sans medicine. Apparently, he was also “sunnyside up” and they’d been trying to manually turn him around. After the second time that (horrible thing) happened, I decided I needed the epidural. It was given and I was told to relax in preparation for the actual birth. I spent the next 30 minutes or so waiting for it to “kick in”. The pressure and contractions were so bad that I was vomiting. I continued to feel everything. I even felt the ring of fire. I could feel my legs as I grabbed them to help myself push. Later I assumed that the epidural had just been there to “take the edge off”, but after reading how women are supposed to respond to it, I realize that I don’t think it worked for me.ReplyCancel

    • It definitely sounds like it did not work at all! Are you planning to have more children? If so, you might want to consider other options or make sure your anesthesiologist knows your history of complications should you decide to try one again.ReplyCancel

  • Brandy

    I’ve delivered 3 of my babies vaginally and had a epidural with each one. I received the epidural about 2-4 hours before delivering each time I was dilated to at least 5-6 cm. With my first and second I felt everything. Instead of numbing my lower body it numbed my upper. Each time Doctors, nurses and anesthesiologist was shocked because I had complete control of my lower half and it was aberrant that it just wasn’t working. I set straight up in hopes the medication would move down but it didn’t help. With my third we was prepared for other pain management options. The anesthesiologist suggested a combo of a epidural and a interracial one placed in my lower spine one in my upper. This did give me pain relief other than a window they called it in witch I felt pain in my lower stomach in a single area. Then with my fourth baby I received a epidural only because the anesthesiologist didn’t do combos. After laboring 12 hours and me screaming with the epidural the nurse finally tried to consult me about my pain she couldn’t believe with the max amount of medication allowed that I would be feeling anything but I was feeling everything in my lower body again. And I was having trouble breathing where my upper body was numb. I knew something was wrong this time for 2 hours of screaming and crying begging them to do something this pain was different than the other 3 so they finally check me dialated to 8 cm they realize the baby hasn’t moved down at all so they did a ultrasound and found him breech. By now my body is shaking uncontrollable from the pain. So emergency C-section it is and with my condition inability to numb up they would be putting me under for the surgery. I was so upset wanting my fiancee with me. Seeing that I was going to be unconscious they wouldn’t let him be in the room with me. Now I’m 9 months pregnant with my 5th and its been less than a year scents my c-section I’m going to be having another c-section and I’m terrified that if I’m awake I’ll feel everything. But I would love to be conscious and alert and have my hubby with me seeing this will be my last baby. Any advice or suggestions? Having a baby is such a wonderful gift. I would love to be able to enjoy the delivery. Instead of fearing it.ReplyCancel

    • Brandy,

      You have been through so much! Because you have experienced an emergency C-section are they planning for you to have a planned c-section this time around? I know that decision will be made in large part to how your incision was made and if they were able to deliver the baby with just one incision or two. I have family and friends who have planned c-sections for this very reason and have a wonderful experience with it. Maybe this would be a good option for you as you haven’t had a great experience with epidurals and c-sections are done using a spinal block.
      If you were further away from your due date I would refer you to Hypnobabies as that is what I did with my last delivery and had such an amazing experience using no drugs at all. Unfortunately this takes time and preparation and with you being in your ninth month you probably wouldn’t have time to prepare adequately.
      Please keep in touch and let me know how it goes. The best part of any delivery as you know is the reward at the end. I will send prayers and positive thoughts your way! You can connect with me on facebook “Camille Gourley Walker” or through instagram camille_mymommystyle. Good luck!ReplyCancel

    • Carrie

      Don’t worry too much! My epidural didn’t work whatsoever but my C-section was a very pleasant experience. I started to feel some pain halfway through and the anesthesiologist was floored, but he gave me IV pain meds to make up the difference. He said my body didn’t react well to them but I didn’t know any better… I felt just fine other than being freezing. Being awake during the procedure is no biggie… You can’t see anything and the meds make you slightly drowsy. I hope all goes/went well!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie

    I had a combination epidural like you explained… The doctor had a lot of trouble with insertion and tried many times. I was in bliss for half an hour from the spinal block and then when it wore off, there was nothing but pain. The epidural didn’t work… And the anesthesiologist couldn’t fix it because he was in a c-section. It was worse than anything I could have imagined. I had an awful nurse who kept yelling at me, saying the pain wasn’t that bad and that I needed to quiet down and put on my big girl panties because I was scaring the woman next door (this is the same nurse who ignored my complaints of a headache when I was discharged… I ended up in the ER 3 times from a spinal headache that wasn’t diagnosed until 5 days later). I ended up having a C-section because baby boy wasn’t going anywhere and he wasn’t doing well with me screaming in pain. I screamed so badly that when I saw my doctor 2 weeks later he asked me how I still had a voice! Between the horrible labor and botched epidural that made one day’s pain a week’s, I am grateful that I will be able to have a C-section right away next time! The “normal” post C-section pain is very tolerable… Difficulty with movement is more annoying than anything.ReplyCancel

  • Petra

    I had epidural with all 3 of my kids. The first one worked 100% and it was amazing, I basically slept until I was at 10cm and then pushed for about 1.5 hours. No pain, no discomfort. I had to look at the monitor to see when to push.
    Both second and third baby hurt so bad. I got epidural at 4cm for all 3 of them. It took away the contraction pains but when they started to drop and go through the birthing canal it was the most excruciating pain I ever felt. The epidural didn’t work on it at all. The anesthesiologist came several times to up my dose and nothing worked. Luckily this only lasted for about 30 minutes and then instead relief once baby got out.
    I thought he didnt do it correctly the second time. But then the same exact thing happened with my third. I am a red head too btw. I just don’t understand how it can work 100% the first time and then not the second and third time.ReplyCancel

  • Sam wilde

    I would just like to point out I was given an epidural which failed to work properly. I was later rushed to theatre and given a spinal by another anaesthetist which also failed to work properly. This meant I just needed an injection to numb my vaginal area and just hope the forceps worked. Not trying to scare anyone but it does happen. I’m currently pregnant with my second and I’ve been booked in to see an anaesthetist while pregnant to discuss my options. It really was traumatic for me hoping second time round it’s easierReplyCancel

  • carey

    Hi Ladies,
    Sorry to hear about your trials… I just wanted to chime in that my first epidural didn’t really work (the doctor tried to insert the catheter twice, and kept giving me more meds, and it only resulted in my arms and legs being numb – but I could still feel everything in my mid-section and as I delivered – and it made it really hard to push. UGH.
    I was pretty terrified when it came time for my second – but I asked for it early, told him I had trouble with my first one, and it was like A DREAM. (I had a baby girl and was ready to name it after this man!!) It was clear that he didn’t want to talk badly about the first doctor, but it was clear that he just did a great job (and possibly that the first doctor could have been better). I feel that if a doctor is willing to TAKE A CATHETER OUT OF YOUR SPINE AND TRY AGAIN, there’s something to be said about it being placed correctly, etc. My first birth took me 24 hours of laboring and over 3.5 hours of pushing. With intense pain, vomiting, etc. My second was like a dream – slept through a lot of the labor, pushed for maybe 30 or 40 minutes. Barely felt a thing – and she was 2 pounds bigger than my first!! I’d say if you’re having issues, ask if you can see another anesthesiologist!! Best of luck to you all.ReplyCancel

  • Lindsay

    With my first, the epidural wore off after about 20 minutes. The resident re did it a few times during my 26 hours of hell plus a spinal and nothing worked for me. I had been induced bc my water broke. Also baby was sunny side up. By a 9 cm I just couldn’t take another minute and was begging to be put out, I also felt extremely hot like on fire, begging to have water dumped on me. it was taking hours and I wasn’t dilating further so I had c section, they had to put me out. The last couple contractions on the operating table were unbelievably painful, there’s no way I could have done any more. I ended up getting a spinal headache the day we went home. Had to go back in for another epidural to take it away.
    With my second I tried a vbac as I thought it was the residents fault it didn’t work with my 1st. But it didn’t work again! And baby was sunny side up again!! So i opted for c section. The spinal also didn’t work enough to numb me when testing me before cutting so they had to put me out again.
    I am now going in tomorrow to have my third. It will be nice that its planned, I won’t be in labor… We’re hoping the spinal block works this time and I can stay awake and see at least one of my kids being born! I so hope so. But I’m nervous about feeling pain during it….ReplyCancel

    • How did it go this time Lindsay? I am sorry you had such a horrible experience and had to go through c-sections not even being awake. ugh. I am hoping this time around was a lot more peaceful and happy! Send me an update!ReplyCancel

  • s

    Hi! I was hoping to go natural mostly because I have had bad experiences with anesthesia. I don’t ever get numb for dental work and I felt stitches in my finger despite being injected with the max local anesthetic. Unfortunately I was at 7 cm for 12 hours so the dr started prepping for an emergency cesarean. The anesthesiologist gave me an epidural…didn’t work. Tried again any gave me another one. Nothing. Then spinal. Absolutely nothing. No effect whatsoever. So
    He approached me and said “at this point you have a choice, you can go under general anesthesia but it will be risky for you and the baby or you can endure the pain of the cesarean. I felt everything…And eventually blacked out. It was terrible:ReplyCancel

    • Oh my goodness! I am so very sorry to hear this! i CAN’T IMAGINE going through that! Do you want to have more children?ReplyCancel

  • Lori

    I have had only one child. I had an epidural at the beginning stages of pain. It worked for about 10 minutes, so they gave me another. This one numbed only the right side of my body so they told me to lay sideways and let it numb the other side. It did not and I was in so much pain. They decided to give me another because i was in excruciating pain. Well, needless to say, that didn’t work so they asked if I wanted another one. Of course not! I didn’t want to hurt my baby so I endured the pain and had a healthy baby girl. The doctor’s told me that if I have another baby, to tell the doctor that epidurals do not work for me and to ask for the pill combination. I do not plan on having another baby but they never told me why the epidurals didn’t work. I had “carpet burn on the right side and had stitches on the other side. I had to take a pair of socks to the bathroom with me for a month to bite down on as I peed, as it hurt so bad. Years later, I had a kidney stone and they gave me the liquid morphine. That didn’t help the pain in any way. When I asked for more, the doctor said no. I heard her talking and she thought I was a drug addict. She told me that there is no way that I could still feel pain. Only when she was out of the room and heard me crying telling my husband to tell her that I don’t do drugs, did she allow me another round. That didn’t work either. I could barely lat still during the MRI but was embarrassed that she thought I wanted only drugs. Does anyone else have this problem? I rarely go to the doctors as it is (maybe three times in my entire life) unless I am in dire pain and can barely walk. Now, I feel like I can’t go at all without them feeling like I only want drugs.ReplyCancel

  • Coll

    When my first daughter was born my water broke at 1 am with zero contractions.  I want to the hospital and the nurses immediately placed me on pitocin. Contractions were very hard. I was dialated to a 3 and had been in labor for 10 hours. I finally requested an epidural. It did NOTHING!  I was in labor for another 14 hours with no pain relief.  Than 3 more hours of pushing only to be told I was going to have a ceserean.  My daughter was finally born.  Fast forward 18 months later at a different hospital with daughter #2.  I decided to try VBAC.  Contractions came normally this time but two weeks late.  My nurse broke my water about 2 hours in and contactions came full force.  I was dialated to a 4 and requested an epidural. AGAIN it did nothing!  I complained to the nurse and a different anesthesiologist came in to take that one out and put another in.  Again, it did absolutely NOTHING!!  Labor ended in another cesarean.  Either I am extremely unlucky with anesthesiologist(which is extremely unlikely) or something is different with my body.ReplyCancel

  • Mariana Vivas

    Im speechless after reading all your comments about epidural not working!!! Mine didn’t work either! It was a traumatic experience for me, first child, 36hrs of labor, 1:30hrs pushing, got my epidural with 7cm dialated, the doctor broke my water and contractions were unbearable. I was screaming so much and the doctor told me to “control my paint, stop screaming” I wanted to punch him. I tried the epidural first time in between the worse contractions and it didn’t work, he tried again and nothing… by this point I didn’t even know that could happen. The nurse and the anesthesiologist were very sarcastic thinking that I was lying. By this point I just wanted to squat and start pushing but I had to push laying flat down because I had the “epidural”. After a 4th degree tear my baby came out healthy and beautiful. Now Im 4 months postpartum and when laying on the ground I can feel both spots where they tried the epidural. Anyone else still feel pain were they fot the epidural? As a woman I really feel that we should talk more about our experiences. 
    Thank you for sharing!ReplyCancel

    • You’re so welcome! I agree! There is not enough talk about this! Thank you for adding your voice!ReplyCancel

  • Miranda

    I had 3 kids, my first 2 epiduals did not work, very little. When I told the anesthesiologist with my 3rd baby I’m not sure he believed me. UNTIL, I was a hour in and refused the catheter because I could freely move my legs ans pee using a bed pan lol. It definitely wasn’t working. And this was not a one time placement thing. 3 times it did not work for me. Novacain does not work well at the dentist for me. It does eventually work after about 8 shots of it. Luckily though I had a great anesthesiologist because he came back and checked on me several times and ended up giving me several other medications into my epidual until one of them finally worked. I have no clue what it was, BUT for anyone who has this issue, push for relief because there are other meds they can give that will probably work for you. I thought I was doomed with my 3rs but the experience was ridiculously better! ReplyCancel

  • Beth

    My epidural wore off. They reinserted the catheter, and then the same. It was bliss both times for around fifteen to twenty minutes, and then straight pain. ReplyCancel

  • I was given 2 epidurals in a row with my first kid and neither one worked at all. Ten years later, hoping it was the anesthesiologists fault, I got another with my second child. It didn’t work at all. I felt everything with both kids. Wondering if I should even bother trying for my third kid. I seriously doubt it would work, therefore isn’t worth having a needle jabbed into your spine for no relief…sigh. Is it me, or the anesthesiologist? I don’t know!ReplyCancel

    • Have you considered prepping for unmediated child birth? I did hypnobabies and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Let me know if you have any questions I have a whole series on YouTube.ReplyCancel


MyMommyStyle Meet Camille

Hello! I am Camille, a wife, mother of four, Disney obsessed, certified teacher, and reality optimist. Motherhood comes with its ups and downs, and I hope while you're here you'll find something that makes your #momlife easier!


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