General Anesthesia or an Epidural – Which Option Is Safer?

Women who have been advised a Cesarean section birth or are likely to undergo a C section for any reason, may be considering their options, wondering what is the better anesthetic option – whether a spinal anesthesia or an epidural that numbs part of the body, or a general anesthesia that renders a woman unconscious is a better option.

While a general anesthesia renders a person unconscious so that they are effectively asleep and unable to feel or experience anything, an epidural or spinal anesthesia means that one is awake throughout the procedure.

Epidural AnesthesiaIt is usually an epidural that is administered for labor and delivery and in many cases a sedative is also administered along with it, to make the woman feel calm and relaxed though she will stay awake and in her senses throughout; able to hear and see what is going on.

What is better for the mother?

If a woman wants to be conscious throughout the procedure of the birth, she will prefer to undergo an epidural.

However if the idea of undergoing major abdominal surgery while still conscious makes her jittery – for instance you can hear what the doctors are saying and perhaps hear it when the incision is being made – then general anesthesia may be better.

Another thing to consider is the fact that going in and out of unconsciousness can be disorienting and physically upsetting (some feel choking sensations when they are coming to), whereas there is no loss of consciousness with an epidural. Recovery time from GA is longer as well.

Though the doctor is the one to take the decision about whether general anesthesia or an epidural are better based on medical and other concerns, a woman may communicate her preferences to her doctor in advance.

General Anesthesia or Epidural – Medical concerns

There are many plusses of a general anesthesia (GA) – one is fully unconscious so one feels neither any kind of physical pain nor any kind of anxiety or anxiousness. However GA is not indicated for certain kinds of people – if a woman is addicted to any substances or medications, it may not be suitable to use.

Also certain kinds of allergies, or the presence of certain heart, lung and kidney problems could also preclude use of anesthesia.

There is also a greater chance of certain complications occurring with GA than there are with an epidural: possible complications include heart attack or stroke and in rare cases death. There is a slight chance of contracting certain kinds of lung infection and possible harm to the teeth or tongue or the vocal chords.

Some find it disorienting and confusing to undergo local anesthesia however this is temporary. In very rare cases people are known to wake up during anesthesia, though this is rare as well.

Though epidurals are considered safer with shorter recovery times, there are possible complications here as well – there could be an allergic reaction to the anesthesia or bleeding around the spinal column.

In rare cases there could be seizures, or an infection to the spine, nerve damage or drop in blood pressure. Headaches or difficulty urinating could also be possible problems.


  1. I had my last child without any medication as I opted for a hypnotherapy birth. Compared with my first two – Harry’s birth was a lot calmer and he seemed a much happier baby. I had had 2 epidurals for my other children, and found these to be fine although i felt less in control than i did with Harry.


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