Pethidine painkiller and epidural

Stronger pain relief options include a pethidine painkiller or an epidural.

Pethidine painkiller

Pethidine is a strong painkiller. It is a similar drug to morphine and a type of opioid. This is an injection given into your leg or bottom. It may help lessen your pain, especially if used alongside other methods.

The injection can make you feel drowsy, dizzy or sick. It takes about 20 minutes to works and lasts 2 to 4 hours.

If given too close to birth, your baby may be a bit sleepy after birth.


An epidural is a local anaesthetic given in your lower back. A drip will be put in a vein in your arm to give you some intravenous fluids beforehand. These keep your blood pressure stable.

How an epidural is given

  1. You will be asked to sit up in a slouched position or lie on your side so the epidural can be inserted.
  2. An anaesthetist will clean your skin and inject some local anaesthetic.
  3. A needle will then be placed in your back.
  4. A very thin tube will be passed through the needle into your back near the nerves.
  5. Once the tube is in the right place, the needle is removed and pain-relieving drugs can be given through the tube.

It takes about 10 minutes to set up the epidural tube, and another 10 to 15 minutes for it to work.

A tube called a catheter will be inserted into your bladder to drain urine once the epidural is in place. It stays in place for up to 8 hours after the birth.

Your midwife will need to check your blood pressure regularly as sometimes it can fall.

Epidural side-effects

The epidural has a minimal effect on your baby. It doesn't cause your baby to be sleepy like a pethidine injection would do.

You may be required to remain in bed for the birth. Your baby will need to be monitored during labour.

Taking an epidural may make the labour longer and reduce your urge to push down. If you cannot feel your contractions, the midwife will have to tell you when to push and breathe out. Forceps or a ventouse (vacuum) may be needed to help deliver your baby.

The epidural may cause a severe headache, which can be treated. It can also cause a feeling of heaviness in the legs, low blood pressure (the fluid in your drip should prevent this) and pins and needles down one leg.

Epidurals can cause soreness in the back for a day or two but they don’t cause long-term back pain.

Page last reviewed: 4 December 2018
Next review due: 4 December 2021