General anesthesia causes total loss of both sensation and general consciousness. It can either be inhaled or injected into a vein. Although general anesthesia takes effect much faster than an epidural or spinal block, it carries more risks. It is therefore rarely used during childbirth. However there are some circumstances in which the health care team may have to use this type of anesthesia and these include the following :

  • emergency cesarean
  • when a woman cannot tolerate regional anesthesia
  • in rare cases when epidural or spinal block cannot be placed
  • benefits of a general anesthesia outweighs the risks

general anesthesia

How is a general anesthesia given ?

During a general anesthesia :

  • a muscle relaxant such as succinylcholine is given intravenously. This makes the pregnant woman very relaxed  and semiconscious
  • she then inhales nitrous oxide which causes total loss of consciousness. A tube is inserted into the woman’s trachea.  An unconscious person may vomit. The tube is to open the airways and prevent the possibility of inhaling the vomiting material.


What is the effect of general anesthesia on the mother and baby ?

According the America pregnancy association, research indicates that the rate of maternal death due to general anesthesia is double that of regional anesthesia. The main cause of death with general anesthesia is difficulty with airways management.


The greatest risk the baby faces is decreased uterine blood flow and neonatal depression. The long term neonatal effect have led to virtual elimination of general anesthesia during childbirth.


Content Sources
General anesthesia.American Pregnancy Association. Accessed December 3, 2015

General anesthesia for childbirth. WebMD. Accessed December 3, 2015

General anesthesia during delivery. Healthline. Accessed December 3, 2015


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