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A guide to gas and air in labour: The pros and cons

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Pregnancy and Birth pain relief gas and air
Gas and air, or entonox, is a pain-relieving gas. It is a mixture of 50% oxygen and 50 per cent nitrous oxide (more commonly known as 'laughing gas'). It's available on the labour ward via tubing, 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 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 it 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 relieve pain, but if you need something else, then switch to the gas and air.

What are the advantages?

  • It's self-administered, via a mask or mouthpiece, so you feel more in control.
  • 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.
  • It can be used during a home birth.
  • You can still be mobile, changing positions while using it.
  • It can be used in a bath or birthing pool.
  • You can keep it with you for as long as you feel you need to.
  • 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.

What's bad about it?

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.

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Anne Richley, midwife.

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