Gas and air for pain relief in labour

Gas and air (aka entonox) is a common type of labour pain relief. Find out what's in it, how its used to relieve labour pains, gas and air side effects, and weigh up the pros and cons for your own birth plan...

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Gas and air is one of the most popular forms of pain relief in labour.

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It’s readily available in most NHS hospitals – but how does it work, and how effective is it in getting rid of contraction pains?

We’ve also seen lots of people say gas and air made them sick or feel nauseous. What causes that – and how likely is it to happen to you?

In our guide to gas and air for labour, we’ll answer lots of your most frequent questions, including:

By clicking one of the above links, you’ll see the answer to your chosen question.

However, we’d recommend giving this whole piece a read if you’re considering gas and air for your labour 💛

What is gas and air?

Gas and air, also known as ‘entonox’, is a mixture of 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide (which you’ll probably know as ‘laughing gas’).

As the gas enters your bloodstream, it won’t completely get rid of your pain, but it will reduce it significantly, making your muscles more relaxed and possibly making you feel light-headed, or even making you giggle 😂

It’s a common form of pain relief, and is often combined with other forms of pain relief for maximum impact, such as water or hypnobirthing, pethidine, epidural – even a TENS machine.

How does gas and air work as pain relief?

Essentially, gas and air is a DIY form of pain relief. It works by allowing you to inhale the gas through a mouthpiece or mask.

“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,” says midwife Anne Richley.

“By the time it’s at its peak, you’ll be receiving the full effect of the gas.”

After you’ve inhaled, you can keep the mouthpiece on or take it off, whatever your preference. You do need to keep taking deep breaths, in and out.

How much gas and air can you have?

Since you administer the Entonox yourself via the mouthpiece, you can control the amount you’re taking in. Each ‘hit’ only lasts a few seconds, too.

But how long you use the gas and air for will depend on how effective you find it.

Some women love it and find it provides enough relief for the duration of labour, other women find that it’s not enough when contractions are at their strongest, or don’t like the feeling of lightheadedness that it causes.

However, we’re pretty sure your midwife will make sure you’re not inhaling too much.

When can you use gas and air?

Honestly, you can use it whenever. “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,” explains Anne.

Most often, though, you’ll find it’s used at the tail end of the 1st stage of labour as your contractions intensify in both frequency and strength.

If you’re using it at the pushing stage, your midwife may suggest only using it at the beginning of a contraction, so you’re fully focused on the pushing part.

gas and air

Can I use gas and air at home?

Gas and air is typically 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.

So, totally fine for home births. Make sure your midwife knows your plan well in advance, though!

Can you buy gas and air?

We wouldn’t recommend buying gas and air yourself online, though we have no doubt you likely can find it lurking around on the internet somewhere.

If you’d like to use gas and air during your home birth, tell your midwife, and they will arrange it so you have some to hand during your labour.

What does gas and air feel like?

Gas and air will feel different for every woman – though generally, our mums reported feelings of lightheadness and tingles, almost like being a bit tipsy.

“The gas and air didn’t take the pain away, but I did feel more ‘removed’ from it while still remaining in control,” says mum-of-1 Janine.

“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!”

“It doesn’t make the pain go away but it does take the edge off it, the only feeling I can remember was that it made my lips (on my face lol) feel all rubbery,” says misosoup36989

“As well as taking the edge of the pain away, it also gives you something to concentrate on! It does make you really thirsty though, so drink plenty of water to stop you from dehydrating,” adds Kohei.

“I think gas and air is wonderful, I managed on it through most of my labour, it kind of made me feel like I was in another planet and very p**sed!” Samhaw.

“My OH kept telling me to only take it when I needed it as I had it clamped between my teeth permanently but then my labour pains were thick and fast.

“The only downfall is they took it off me when it was time to push so unlike other pain relief it doesn’t last through that stage!”

“For me, g&a made me feel fuzzy and a bit tingly but not in a nauseous or out of control way,” says Pinktoothbrush.

“It was a pleasant, floating sensation a bit like before you fall asleep and was just enough to take the edge off the pain.

“In between contractions and the instant she was born I was clearheaded – that’s how short-lived the effects are.”

Will entonox affect my baby?

We’ve established the usefulness of gas and air during labour for mum, but we also want to stress that’s totally safe for your baby, too.

There’s no evidence to suggest that gas and air will cause your baby any harm.

Will gas and air make me sick?

One of the well-known side effects of Entonox is a woozy feeling or nausea – just ask mum Katels!

“When I was in labour, the first time I used G&A the room started spinning and I had to run to the loo to throw up!! However after that I was fine using it and it took the edge off the contractions.” 

Yep, you might indeed feel sicky after using gas and air. Hopefully, like in Katels case, the nastier side effects will be momentary. 

And don’t forget: not all women feel nauseous using gas and air. Here’s hoping you’re one of the lucky ones!

Pros and cons of gas and air

We’ve talked a lot about gas and air – so here’s a summary of the pros and cons to weigh up as you’re deciding whether or not it’s right for your birth plan. 

The advantages of gas and air include:

  • 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
  • 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 or an epidural.

The disadvantages of gas and air include:

  • Some women find that it makes them feel nauseous. Others may feel out of control if it makes them light-headed
  • Standing is usually OK, but you may feel too lightheaded to walk around.

Images: Getty Images

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