There are four types of anaesthesia available for Caesarean section:
- Epidural anaesthesia: tends to only be used for those women who have already had an epidural inserted during labour. The strength of the epidural can be increased to allow for a pain free Caesarean section.
- Spinal anaesthesia: is where a single dose of local anaesthetic is injected at the level of the lower back into the fluid surrounding the spinal nerves, without the placement of a catheter.
- A combination of epidural and spinal anaesthesia: Spinal anaesthesia may be used for quick pain relief before proceeding to insert an epidural during labour.
Both epidural and spinal anaesthesia allow the mother to be awake for the delivery.
- General anaesthesia (GA): may be used for Caesarean section in an emergency, or for women who have a contraindication to epidural or spinal anaesthesia. Medication is given via an intravenous line that results in rapid loss of consciousness (you are asleep). A combination of anaesthetic gases and intravenous drugs is then administered to keep you asleep during the delivery. Unfortunately by its very nature, a GA prevents the mother from watching the birth of her child. It also prevents the father or partner from being present.
Awareness of surgery: both spinal and epidural anaesthesia numb the lower half of the mother’s body to pain sensation. Different nerves carry the sensation of touch and are often not completely blocked. Therefore, mothers will often experience a sensation of pulling or touching by the surgeon but not any associated pain. This is normal and not an indication the anaesthetic is inadequate in any way. However, if you feel discomfort or pain it is important to advise your anaesthetist so they can assess you and decide how best to manage this.
Headache: As with an epidural for childbirth, spinal and epidural anaesthesia for Caesarean section may cause a headache.
Common Side Effects
General Anaesthesia for Caesarean Section can cause the same common side effects as for other types of surgery including, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, dry mouth and drowsiness. Bruising can also occur at the site of the intravenous injections but usually settles quickly.
Regurgitation and inhalation of gastric contents: is where the stomach contents are brought up into the back of the throat and then inhaled into the lungs during the GA. It is important to fast for some time prior to your anaesthetic. There are many steps your anaesthetist can take to minimise this risk to you.
Awareness of surgery: is where you can become conscious during the operation and remember things that happened during this time. This is most likely to result from receiving too little anaesthetic. With advances in monitoring and equipment the risk of awareness has become extremely low.
Difficult Airway: Pregnancy can cause difficulties in managing the airway. Your anaesthetist will assess this risk prior to anaesthetic.
Rare Side Effects
General Anaesthetic has a very small risk of severe allergic reactions. It is important to advise your anaesthetist of any known allergies to medications or rubber (latex) products.