Epidural Recovery After Labor

A nurse holding a mom in labor while she gets an epidural.

BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

In childbirth class or hospital classes, you may learn a lot about epidural anesthesia. They will probably tell you all about the risks and the benefits. You will probably learn how and when it can be administered.

You might even see the procedure or talk to an anesthesiologist about the procedure, but chances are the information you receive in class will end when the epidural is placed or shortly thereafter. Many moms have questions about the epidural procedure and its effects after the birth. Here are some of the answers to those questions.

Epidural Catheter Removal

Typically the epidural catheter will be removed an hour or two after the birth of your baby. This is usually not painful but may feel strange as the epidural catheter is pulled from your back.

Many moms report the removal of all the tape to be more painful than the removal of the epidural catheter.

If you gave birth via cesarean surgery, occasionally the epidural catheter will stay in for a few more hours to help provide you with pain relief after the surgery. Your anesthesiologist can also place medications like Duramorph into the epidural catheter to help provide pain relief even after the epidural catheter is removed. This medication will not cause numbing like the typical epidural medications will cause.

If you are having a tubal ligation (your tubes tied) after you give birth, the epidural will stay in place until after your surgery. Your epidural catheter may be removed by the anesthesiologist or nurse.

Numbness From the Epidural

Many moms report being able to wiggle their toes and a slow return to sensation within hours of having the epidural medications discontinued. The amount of numbness after an epidural varies from mother to mother.

Part of what you will need to factor into this answer will be what type of epidural you had—continuous or bolus. If you had the continuous flow epidural, once it is turned off you can usually have full sensation back with six hours of birth. A bolus type of epidural will depend on when the last dose of medication was given.

Some women experience tingling, shaking, numbness and other sensations in their legs during this period or after. It can be perfectly normal, but you do need to report it to your nurse.

Bladder Catheter Removal

Your bladder catheter will be removed just before the birth of the baby's head. If you have problems urinating after birth you may have to have the catheter placed back into your bladder to help you until you can successfully urinate on your own consistently.

It is important that your bladder remains empty. Some women have more trouble with this because of the epidural medications and numbing or because of damage done to the bladder with the bladder catheter. This is usually very temporary.

Once the Epidural Wears Off

You can expect to feel very sore once the medications wear off. Begin taking medications that your doctor or midwife has prescribed as soon as you can, preferably before the epidural medications wear off.

With an epidural, you are more likely to have had an additional intervention which may make postpartum more painful. Start with the non-narcotics and see if they help your pain level, reserve the "big guns" for later.

You may find that your lower body is stiff or sore. This is frequently because your muscles are stiff from remaining in the same position for a long time during your labor. Stiffness happens because you usually are unaware of the position you are in because your legs and lower body are numbed from the medication.

Simple stretching and time will generally be all that is needed to help change this. You may also feel soreness because of extra expulsive efforts due to your inability to feel.

Get up and walk as soon as you can to help you feel more in control of your body.

Walking around can really help change your physical and emotional feelings about your body. This also speeds recovery.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Delgado C, Van Cleve W, Kent C, Dinges E, Bollag LA. Neuraxial anesthesia for postpartum tubal ligation at an academic medical center. F1000Res. 2018;7:1557. doi:10.12688/f1000research.16025.1

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  5. Neron M, Allègre L, Huberlant S, et al. Impact of systematic urinary catheterization protocol in delivery room on covert postpartum urinary retention: a before-after study. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):17720. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18065-8

  6. InformedHealth.org. Pregnancy and birth: Epidurals and painkillers for labor pain relief. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG).

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Additional Reading
  • Gabbe, Niebyl, Simpson, et al. Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 6th Edition.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.