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A spinal block may sometimes be called a "spinal." A narcotic or anesthetic, such as fetanyl, bupivacaine or lidocaine is injected below the spinal column directly into the spinal fluid and provides pain relief for up to 2 hours.

It is easy to confuse a spinal block and spinal epidural because they are both injections into the spinal area. For a spinal block, narcotics or anesthetic is injected once with a needle. For a spinal epidural or combined spinal epidural, a catheter is placed in the epidural space to allow continuous anesthesia. Spinal blocks are not widely administered today because of the popularity of epidurals, though they may be used in a more complex birth situation or cesarean delivery.

What you need to know about a spinal block

A spinal block may cause one or more of the following concerns:

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure) 
  • Difficulty pushing during the second stage of labor
  • Severe headache requiring an epidural blood patch
  • Dizziness
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • In rare instances, convulsions
  • Both narcotics and “caine” medications cross the placenta and enter the baby’s blood stream
  • Baby may have trouble breastfeeding after birth