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Your guide to epidurals in Hong Kong

Giving birth in Hong Kong? One of the first things you’ll want to know is about how epidural works in the SAR. After all, giving birth can be a painful experience and epidurals are known to alleviate some of the pain. In this Pacific Prime Hong Kong article, you’ll learn all about epidurals – from the medical procedure itself to how they’re administered in Hong Kong. It’ll help you decide whether to give birth in a public or private hospital, and thereby, whether you should secure maternity health insurance.

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How do epidurals work

Epidurals are the most common type of anesthetic used for pain relief during labor. It’s administered by inserting a needle and a tiny tube called a catheter in the lower part of your back. The needle is then removed and the catheter left in place, in order to deliver medication to you through the tube. It takes about 15 minutes for the medication to kick in, which helps “blocks” pain signals from the uterus and surrounding muscles to the brain. It is also possible to have the medication directly injected into your lower back for immediate relief.

1. What are the different types of epidural?

While epidurals are used as a broad term, there are a few different types as alluded to previously and listed below:

  • Epidural: Administered via a catheter that’s left in place. Medication can be given at a later time if required.
  • Spinal injection: Administered directly into the spinal fluid. Typically, it wears off more quickly due to it being given in a single dose usually only once during labor.
  • Combined spinal-epidural or “walking epidural”: Administered as a hybrid of the two, involving lower doses of medication. It provides more feeling in the lower half of the body.

2. Is it painful to get an epidural?

The area where the epidural is administered is numbed beforehand, so there is little pain associated with the injection and you’ll likely just feel some pressure as the needle is inserted. However, the numbing process may result in a stinging or burning sensation.

3. What does having an epidural feel like? And how long does the pain relief last?

An epidural will leave you feeling numb from your belly button to your upper legs. You’ll be awake and alert during labor and will also be able to feel pressure. Spinal injection pain relief lasts an hour or two, but you can receive pain relief through an epidural for as long as you need.

4. Are there any risks related to epidurals?

Serious complications are rare as epidurals are generally safe procedures for mother and baby. However, you should be aware of potential side effects as per the following:

  • Lower blood pressure: The medication may lower your blood pressure, which may slow your baby’s heart rate. Extra fluids through a tube in your arm (IV) and lying on your side make this less likely.
  • Sore back: You may experience soreness in your lower back where the needle was inserted to deliver the medication, but this shouldn’t last more than a few days. There is no evidence of permanent back pain.
  • Headache: It is unlikely, but you may also get a headache from the needle piercing the covering of the spinal cord. Again, this shouldn’t last for more than a few days. If you experience symptoms, discuss this with your anesthesiologist.
  • Paralyzation: Being paralyzed after an epidural is extremely rare. In fact, many call it a myth. The chances for permanent neurological injury after labor epidural range from 1:100,000 to 1:250,000.

5. Why would someone choose not to get an epidural?

The main drawback is that your mobility could be restricted, causing labor to take longer and increasing chances for medical intervention. Nevertheless, you can opt for a low-dose epidural or stop the epidural when it’s time to push.

Public vs Private Hospitals: Approaches to epidural

In Hong Kong, the approach to epidurals will depend on whether you’re at a public or private hospital. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the healthcare system in the city-state, including the differences between the hospitals. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know that, although Hong Kong’s public healthcare is excellent, like many other public healthcare systems in the world, resources can be stretched. For this reason, in some public hospitals, there may not always be an availability of epidurals due to a quota on the number of epidurals allowed simultaneously or a limited number of anesthetists on-call.

Epidural administration:

When being given pain-relief medication through a catheter, there are three different ways this can be done. The following tells you each one and its popularity in Hong Kong:

  • Continuously: This is when the medication is provided continuously. It is a standard for public hospitals in Hong Kong.
  • Top up: Requests can be made for top ups of the medication. Expect to be able to do this at private hospitals in Hong Kong.
  • Self-controlled: A special drip is given to the pregnant woman in labor, so she can control the dosage herself. Note that this is uncommon in Hong Kong.

Cost of giving birth and epidurals:

It’s unsurprising that the cost of giving birth in Hong Kong is far cheaper at a public hospital than private hospitals – especially for Hong Kong ID holders. Public hospitals will also include epidural costs in the fees of giving birth, while private hospitals charge extra for it.

Paying for a private birth:

As the pregnancy costs in Hong Kong, especially in private hospitals, can be very expensive, a smart idea is to get maternity insurance. However, many women try to secure it too late in the game and are unable to make claims due to a clause known as “waiting periods”.

Learn more about maternity insurance

If you’d like to fully grasp maternity insurance, Pacific Prime Hong Kong has got a wealth of resources like our maternity insurance infographic or maternity insurance guide. In addition to this, you can head over to our blog where we consistently publish articles about maternity and newborn issues. For example, minimizing pregnancy infection risk during COVID-19, how to bond with your baby the right way, and more.

As a global health insurance broker, with over two decades of experience, we can help you secure maternity insurance. Whatever your needs or budget, you can count on us to point you in the right direction. We also offer a range of insurance types, such as newborn insurance, family insurance, and more. For a free consultation and no-obligation quote, get in touch with one of our expert insurance advisors.

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Suphanida aims to demystify the world of insurance by creating informative and engaging content. As a wordsmith, she spends the majority of her day writing and editing website content, blog posts, in-depth guides, and more.

Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys traveling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.