General Anesthesia

Being informed about general anesthesia will prevent surprises in the rare case it may be used. General anesthesia refers to a total loss of both sensation and consciousness. General anesthesia is rarely used for childbirth because your participation is crucial for a safe and efficient birth.

The following are RARE situations in which a health care provider may decide to give General Anesthesia:

  • Emergency cesarean, when a rapid loss of sensation is required
  • In the rare instance that an epidural or spinal block cannot be placed
  • When the woman cannot tolerate a regional anesthetic
  • When the benefits of general anesthesia far outweigh the risks

How is General Anesthesia given?

Step 1: A muscle relaxant, such as succinylcholine, is given intravenously. This quickly makes the woman very relaxed and semiconscious.

Step 2: Then she inhales a gas, nitrous oxide, which causes a complete loss of consciousness. A tube is inserted into the woman’s trachea to keep her airway open and allow administration of the anesthetic. Because an unconscious person may vomit, the tube is there to help prevent her from inhaling the vomited material.

What are the risks to mother and baby from General Anesthesia?

Research strongly indicates that the rate of maternal death due to general anesthesia may be at least double the rate of deaths due to regional anesthesia. The primary cause of maternal death due to general anesthesia is difficulty with airway management. The greatest concern for the baby is the decrease in uterine blood flow and neonatal depression. According to Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology, the prolonged neonatal effects have led to the virtual elimination of general anesthesia’s use during labor and birth.

Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Obstetrics and Gynecology: Just the Facts. Duff, Patrick, et al, Ch. 23.

Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Ninth Ed. Scott, James R., et al, Ch. 3.

American Pregnancy Association, http;//

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