Using gas and air is a common pain relief during your labour but what is it and how is it used?
Gas and air, or entonox, is a form of pain relief. It is a mixture of 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide (more commonly known as ‘laughing gas’). It’s available on the labour ward via a tube, which is piped from a central supply, but it can also be provided in a portable cylinder for use at home or in the bath.
The great thing about gas and air is that you administer it yourself, breathing through a mask or mouthpiece, which you hold in place and use to inhale the gas.
It takes about 30 seconds for the pain relief to really take effect so it’s important to start using it as soon as you feel a contraction starting. By the time it’s at its peak, you’ll be receiving the full effect of the gas.
You don’t have to remove the mouthpiece as you exhale but can leave it there, taking deep breaths in and out.
It’s difficult to know how you’re going to feel in labour and how you’ll cope, but it’s essential that you feel in control. Some women choose to use the gas and air quite early on in their labour, whereas others may only need
it towards the end, or not at all.
It’s a good idea to try other ways of coping first – get the basics right, such as staying at home for as long as possible, keeping upright and moving around. A TENS machine or a bath can be great forms of pain relief, but if you need something else, then switch to the gas and air.
It’s self-administered, via a mask or mouthpiece, so you feel more in control. You can keep it with you for as long as you feel you need to.
It’s safe both for you and your baby.
Some women find it helps them to get into a pattern with their breathing.
You can stop using it and it quickly clears from your system.
You can still be mobile, changing positions while using it. It can be used during a home birth and also used in bath or birthing pool. For example, I cared for a woman who decided, mid-labour, that she’d like a water birth. She’d been using gas and air and didn’t want to stop using it, even for the short walk to the birthing-pool room. I grabbed the portable canister and trailed it behind her, stopping every few minutes in the corridor as she breathed the gas and air throughout each contraction. All of which just goes to show that, wherever you labour, the gas and air can follow!
There’s no indication for continual monitoring of your baby's heartbeat, therefore increasing your mobility.
You can still use other pain relief such as pethidine/meptid or an epidural.
Some women find that it makes them feel nauseous. Others may feel out of control if it makes them light-headed.
Standing is usually okay, but you may feel too light-headed to walk around.
"I can remember curling up in a bean bag with the gas and air. When I wanted to push, the midwife laughed because I hung on to the mouthpiece, even though I wasn’t using it. Until I’d had my baby, there was no way they were going to take the gas and air away!"
Laura, mum to Louis, 1"The gas and air didn’t take the pain away, but I did feel more 'removed' from it while still remaining in control. It was as though I’d had a few too many glasses of wine – which was great, as it had been months since I’d had a drink!"
Janine, mum to Alex, 8 months
Check out other pain relief options available for your labour...
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