Maternity Services


What is an intrathecal?

Intrathecal analgesia or anesthesia is a single injection of a combination of narcotic medicines that is given through a thin spinal needle directly into the spinal fluid. An intrathecal is quick to administer, effective in providing comfort in most cases and allows you to recognize when to start pushing. Intrathecals also do not reduce your ability to push when it is time to deliver your baby. The amount of medicine that is used has no measurable effect on the baby.

Are there side effects?

Side effects with intrathecal analgesia are quite limited. While we use very small doses of narcotics, they still can cause itching, nausea and difficulty urinating. An intrathecal can also lower your blood pressure and depress breathing, so we monitor closely while the intrathecal is becoming established. Headache following an intrathecal is much less common than it use to be.

When can you receive an intrathecal?

If given too early, an intrathecal can slow down your labor, therefore, your family doctor or obstetrician and anesthesiologist, will determine when your labor has progressed far enough to give the intrathecal. Usually, it is preferred that you are at least 4 cms. dilated before an intrathecal is given.

How long will it last?

Generally, an intrathecal will last at least 6–12 hours.

Is there any reason that an intrathecal cannot be given?

There are very few reasons that a patient may not be allowed to have an intrathecal. You should not have an intrathecal if you have a skin infection on your back or your blood won’t clot – low platelets or use of blood thinners.