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What Types of Anesthesia are Safe When Pregnant?

By O. Wallace
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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As with any medical intervention performed during pregnancy, expectant mothers are concerned about the possibility of undergoing surgery or other medical procedures that require anesthesia and may not be safe when pregnant. Naturally, there is concern for the development of the fetus, as well as for the immediate safety of the pregnancy and the safety of the mother. Recent studies and a long history of documented use have repeatedly shown that anesthesia is generally safe when pregnant.

With studies that involve the use of anesthesia for a pregnant woman, it is difficult to attribute complications or malformations in a pregnancy to anesthesia. It is often unclear what specifically may not have been safe during pregnancy and what may have caused the complication. Was there a preexisting and undiagnosed condition, or was the complication caused by the stress or trauma of surgery? Many risks to the fetus during surgery are unrelated to anesthetics, but rather due to the mother’s reaction to the surgery.

The need for surgery arises in approximately 1.5% to 2% of pregnancies. This translates to about 75,000 pregnant American women who need surgery every year. This statistic refers to “nonobstetric” surgery, or surgery that is not related to delivery. This includes dental work, ovarian cystectomies and appendectomies, among many others. The number one cause of maternal death is trauma to the mother, and the need for emergency, nonobstetric surgery is often due to unexpected trauma.

The four main concerns of an anesthesiologist caring for a pregnant woman in surgery are physical reactions relating to the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. Above all, blood and oxygen flow must be maintained to both the mother and the fetus in order for surgery to be safe during pregnancy. If the mother experiences a drop in blood pressure or oxygen saturation, this is cause for concern for the safety of the fetus. Although concerns have been raised in the past about whether the use of nitrous oxide and benzodiazepines is safe when pregnant, no recent study has found any increased risk of congenital abnormalities or preterm labor. Doctors generally agree that inhaled and intravenous anesthetics and narcotics have a long history of being safe when pregnant.

One of the main concerns that doctors and anesthesiologists have when operating on a pregnant woman is preterm labor. For this reason, pregnant women are advised to put off any surgery that can wait until the second or third trimester, preferably the third trimester. For doctors and pregnant women who are particularly cautious, regional anesthetics can minimize the exposure of anesthesia to the fetus, and their use is safe during pregnancy. However, some surgery requires the use of general anesthesia. Women who worry whether surgery and anesthesia are safe during pregnancy may wish to consult their obstetrician, surgeon and anesthesiologist for peace of mind.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002806 — On Feb 20, 2020

I am 18 weeks pregnant and I am scheduled for ovarian cyst removal operation. What are the chances of me losing my fetus?

By anon334184 — On May 10, 2013

Please help. My daughter is six weeks pregnant and a second baby was in her fallopian tube, and with an emergency pregnancy under anesthesia, what are the risk to the baby she still has at six weeks?

By anon262214 — On Apr 19, 2012

@anon81563: I just found out I have the same problem! My doctor wants me to schedule surgery during my second trimester. Did you have the surgery? How did everything go for you and the baby?

By amypollick — On Feb 16, 2012

@anon248166: If you're in a reputable hospital, yes. I had minor outpatient surgery last year, and even though I could categorically state without the slightest doubt that I was under no circumstances pregnant, they still did the test. It's the only pregnancy test I've ever had done.

Because you can't count on a patient being absolutely truthful (or she may not know, yet), any anesthesiologist worth the parchment his/her diploma is printed on will order a pregnancy test before surgery.

By anon248166 — On Feb 16, 2012

Are pregnancy tests always done before surgery?

By anon242183 — On Jan 22, 2012

I want to be an anesthesiologist when I grow up, but I also want to have kids. Being around the anesthesia won't affect the fetus, right?

By anon195092 — On Jul 10, 2011

I am about four weeks pregnant and just found out a few days ago due to me having to get medical clearance in order for me to have surgery the following week in order to fix a broken cheek bone. I was told I'm going to be under general anesthesia. Now I am worried about my child. What are my risks?

By anon177991 — On May 19, 2011

I found out that I need brain surgery, but I also found out that I am 13 weeks pregnant. I have a history of slowed heart rate and low blood pressure from surgery. I've been trying to have a baby for so many years, but now that my life is on the line from my brain condition, I'm worried that it's going to come down to one of us dying.

By anon136218 — On Dec 21, 2010

I am seven weeks pregnant, and i got pregnant unexpectedly. I have two extra nipples, which i want removed since am going to be breastfeeding and am embarrassed about them. I wanted surgery but my mum said it would affect the baby. What is your take?

By anon127072 — On Nov 15, 2010

I am 5th week into pregnancy. I just had an epidural for TURBT (resection of bladder tumour). Will the epidural cause any defect to my pregnancy?

By anon91864 — On Jun 24, 2010

i am 24 weeks pregnant and I'm having an operation on my left ear on wednesday. they say i need to be lie on my left side so then can push the baby to the side. is this going to be safe? will it cause my baby any distress? could it harm either of us?

By anon81563 — On May 02, 2010

I'm six weeks pregnant and have breast implants,i recently found a large lump under my arm and after seeing a specialist have been told i have silicone in my lymph gland, which shows my implant has a rupture and needs changing.

i am worried for myself about the effects of the silicone as it's said it can travel to other parts of the body and i am frightened that it will make me ill.

i can wait until after the baby is due but worry the damage i am doing to my body.

By anon70186 — On Mar 12, 2010

My wife is going to need a surgery to remove two metal plates from her arm (she broke it last summer and the plates come out in December). if she has to have the surgery and is three months pregnant, is there a danger to baby and mother with anesthesia needed for the surgery?

By anon61898 — On Jan 23, 2010

I'm 18 weeks pregnant and i've just had a biopsy on a lump i have which the surgeons tried to remove.

i had local anesthetic, I'm fine as far as my pregnancy goes. I think that different surgeries affect different people in different ways.

Please, most of you should be fine and a local anesthetic should really have no effect on your unborn.

By anon59086 — On Jan 06, 2010

I think I'm currently four weeks pregnant and i have to have a dermoid cyst taken out and I'm worried about the anesthesia that i have to take and my baby. I am so terribly worried. can you tell me if there is any threat to the baby if i do this surgery or should i do it at all?

By anon53957 — On Nov 25, 2009

I am 13 weeks pregnant and have to undergo an ICD operation on my heart. I was told that the best time to have surgery is in the second trimester. although the anesthesia can cause you to go into labor and hence miscarry if you are early on in the pregnancy. It's tough to think about but weigh out what is more important.

if you can hold off the surgery i strongly recommend it but everyone's situation is different so the doctor or anesthesiologist would be the best person to ask!

By anon37092 — On Jul 16, 2009

I was given anesthesia for a surgery not knowing that I was pregnant. I found out I was pregnant upon waking up from surgery. Apparently my urine test was negative but when my blood was tested during the surgery, it was positive. I was informed upon waking that I was pregnant. I found out later that I was probably only 5 days pregnant at the time of the surgery. About 5-6 weeks later, I had a miscarriage. Is it possible that the anesthesia that I was given so early in the pregnancy have caused the miscarriage to happen?

By anon36785 — On Jul 14, 2009

I am 7 weeks and 5 days pregnant and had Laproscopic excision of endometreosis and a hystercopy 3 weeks ago. We did not know that we were pregnant until yesterday. I am concerned that with such surgery i have put the baby at great risk. The fact that i had an anesthetic and then was using Tremol and Vultaren for two weeks after the surgery scares me too. What are the risks? What questions do i need to ask my specialist/surgeon? Can you detect any damage?

By anon36416 — On Jul 12, 2009

hi guys i have a question if any body knows. im 32 weeks pregnant and i have to go and get 3 teeth pulled and they are going to put me out using anesthesia. is this safe for my baby can it harm her? if anybody knows please write back. i have to go in on monday so im a little worried! thanks

By anon35141 — On Jul 02, 2009

Hi I'm 5 weeks pregnant and have just found out I'll need keyhole surgery on my knee so will need to have a general. Please help

By anon32160 — On May 17, 2009

It is my understanding that waiting, until the first trimester is over, is advisable (at least 14-16 weeks). Then, the pregnancy (baby) is a bit more stable. Also, if it's elective surgery, then definitely wait.

By anon26106 — On Feb 08, 2009

i'm about 2-3 weeks pregnant and may possibly need to go under surgery for an ingrown toenail and will most likely be given anesthesia. would it be okay if i continued with the process? please let me know i need to find out a.s.a.p. The ingrown is getting worse by the day. thanks.

By nubian1984 — On Jan 21, 2009

I recently found out I was 6 weeks pregnant. I am scheduled for a cholecystectomy in a week. Should I proceed with the surgery due to my pregnancy and what would be the risks of anesthesia?

By unknown9797 — On Sep 30, 2008

I am 1 week pregnant and am scheduled for Gastrointestinal endoscopy in 2 days. I am not sure if I should keep the appointment, reason being that I will be undergoing Anesthesia. Please advise. Thanks

By anon10849 — On Apr 03, 2008

I just found out that I am 6 weeks pregnant. 2 weeks ago I had a throat scope and was under anesthesia. This procedure took only 5 minutes but I am wondering if there should be any concerns?

Thank you

By anon10632 — On Mar 31, 2008

It is advisable to not to go for any major surgeries during pregnancy as it can be harmful for the baby.

By epittmon — On Mar 28, 2008

I have currently found out that i am 7 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I was scheduled to have a breast reduction due to bad back and neck pain. Is it safe to continue with the surgery even though i'm pregnant? And will the anesthesia affect my baby?

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