Nitrous Oxide also known as ‘laughing gas’, Entonox or Gas and Air, is commonly used for pain relief in labour. Approximately 8 in 10 women will try gas and air at some stage of their labour. For the labour pain, a mixture of nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and breathed through a mask or mouth piece through each contraction.
Nitrous oxide doesn’t stop the pain entirely, but it takes the ‘edge’ off the intensity of each contraction. Many women prefer to use gas and air because it allows them direct control – you can hold the mask/mouth piece yourself and take deep breaths whenever you feel the need. Some women do not find the gas and air helpful at all with the pain of the contractions and choose further pain relief options for their labour and birth.
Nitrous oxide doesn’t interfere with contractions and it doesn’t linger in either the woman’s or the baby’s body. It only last 20 – 30 seconds in your body after you stop breathing on it. This is one of its great advantages.
Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this method of pain relief.
What are the Advantages Of Gas And Air?
It is quick-acting.
It is very easy to use.
You have full control of when you use it.
It helps take off the edge of the contractions.
It’s safe for you and your baby.
It doesn’t stay in your system. As soon as you stop breathing it in, the gas and air in your system is cleared by your lungs and any side effects will stop too, usually within 20-30 seconds.
Your baby doesn’t require extra monitoring while you’re using it. So that means you do not need to have the CTG baby monitor machine on your belly, which means you can be up and mobile in your labour.
If you want to labour in a birth pool or in the bath, you can use the gas while you’re in the water.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Gas And Air?
It is only a mild painkiller. So if you are wanting something stronger you will have to have an opioid (morphine/pethidine) or an epidural.
It may make you feel light-headed/dizzy.
It can cause nausea and vomiting.
Your mouth can become very dry over a period of time.
It may take a while to get the timing right so that it’s effective at the peak of your contractions. I usually explain to the women I look after that the gas and air may take up to 6 contractions for you to work out how to use the gas well and for it to have some effect.
The gas and air is usually started at 70% oxygen and 30% nitrous oxide and slowly turned up over a period of time until it’s having a good effect for you. I find that usually at 60% nitrous oxide and 40% oxygen women get the most benefit from.
Some great tips when using the gas and air is to have lots of sips of water/ice chips in between contractions to keep your mouth moist. Lip balm also comes in handy.
When you’re pushing your baby out in the second stage of labour, you may find it easier to concentrate without using gas and air. So if your midwife suggests trying to push with your contractions without the gas and air, she isn’t being ‘mean’ as such but rather helping you get through the pushing stage more effectively.
Please Please Please don’t feel bad if the gas and air isn’t enough to help you cope with contractions. Make sure you try something else. Using gas and air doesn’t prevent you from having any other drugs for pain relief. I have looked after many women who start on gas and air and then end up having some morphine, using the bath and shower, massage, maybe even some sterile water injections as their chosen pain relief options in labour, and that is completely fine. In the end you will do what is best for you and your baby and if that means having more than gas and air as you are not coping, then as a Midwife, we support your choice.
Learn a little bit more about pain relief options in labour in this blog and this blog.
All the best with your labour and birthing journey.
(This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional. All information is written from the experience and knowledge of the person writing the post).
Some women feel the pain of contractions all around the uterus, some feel them like intense period pains low down in the pelvis, and others as terrible back pain (possibly due to the baby being in a posterior position). It has been suggested that injections of small amounts of sterile water just under the… Read more.
Your pain can often be managed with relaxation techniques, letting go and trusting that your body knows what to do. Fear, tension and resistance are a normal response when you feel out of control or you are not sure what to expect next. Your pain can also vary according to the environment in which you… Read more.
Every woman will experience labour differently. For some it will be a slow (for some very slow) ease into labour and for others it will progress quickly where you don’t even make it to the hospital. Most women will be somewhere in the middle of both those extremes, yet how they cope with the pain… Read more.