When is continuous lumbar epidural anesthesia used in labor?

Active Labor. A continuous lumbar epidural anesthetic is the anesthetic of choice on most patients undergoing labor in the us. The epidural is started once the mother is in active labor, and is then continued until the baby and placenta are delivered.
When needed. Epidurals can be requested by the mother in labor, and are often suggested by the obstetrician if labor is difficult and Pitocin (oxytocin) is needed to stimulate contractions. The epidural is usually not given until labor is well established and the cervix is 3-4 cm dilated.
Labor pain. A continuous labor epidural is placed for relief of labor pain. Some places require the mom to be dilated to a certain number before it can be placed If the OB has determined that the labor pattern is well established, and the patient is requesting pain relief, an epidural can be placed. This is assuming there are no medical contraindications to placing an epidural.