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Pain relief – gas and air

Gas and air, birth, birth pool

24 Apr, 2023

Let’s talk about pain relief for labour

In our Active Antenatal Class, our workshops (Active Birth Workshop or our full Antenatal Course) and our birth planning session, we spend quite a bit of time talking about pain relief in labour.

There are multiple medical forms of pain relief that might be offered to you during your birth. But there are also a multitude of self-help comfort measures that can make a huge difference too. Even if you are choosing to use all the different forms of medical pain relief, there will be some time between you choosing to need something and it being administered and making a difference.

Having a variety of tools to help bridge this time gap is so helpful, and can help you feel in control.

In this blog we’ll talk about the first step on the medical pain relief ladder, Gas and Air. We’ll also talk about how it can work really well with my favourite self-help comfort measure, breathing.

Breathing techniques can help in labour

Breathing techniques can work wonders when you feel like they are needed. And these can absolutely work for some people as their only form of pain relief. But for others, they form part of the journey and work well alongside medical options.

We know that having techniques to use when you feel like you need them is so helpful. Without having to rely on somebody prescribing, dosing and administering the medication. Medical forms of pain relief, with the exception of Gas and Air also take around 20 minutes to take effect. 

Breathing and relaxation techniques can bridge that gap from when you decide that you need something extra to the time it is helping your body.

In our week three classes we learn our 2nd breath for labour and discuss the different forms of medical pain relief. So I thought I would give a bit of an insight into what we some of the conversations that we have.

Gas & Air – what is it? How does it work?

Gas and Air, or Entonox is a popular choice for pain relief in labour. It is generally plumbed into the wall giving the labouring person an unlimited supply. In a home birth setting it is provided in large cylinders which can be replaced and refilled as required.

The gas and air is attached to a large pipe, enabling movement during labour and change position with ease. There is a mouthpiece that is put between your lips and the air taken into your body through inhalation (breathing) through the mouth.

Gas and air can be used individually, or in conjunction with other pain relieving options. Pain relief such as breathing and relaxation techniques, a birthing pool, TENS, pethidine and even with an epidural for any breakthrough discomfort.

The gas is inhaled through a mouthpiece throughout the duration of a contraction. The aim is it reaching peak effectiveness at the peak of the contraction. It takes about 20 seconds to influence your body, taking the edge off contractions. It doesn’t cross the placenta to baby, so it doesn’t have an side effects for them.

Side effects of gas and air

Side effects for the birthing person may include – feeling dizzy, nauseous, a change in the sound of your voice, hysteria (laughing), dry mouth and tingly fingers.

All these side effects pass as soon as you stop using the gas and air and breathe fresh air. You will be encouraged to do this in between contractions so plenty of time for fresh air.

It is easy to put the mouthpiece to one side and try something else if you dislike it.

7 top tips for using gas and air:

1. Breathe in as soon as you start to feel the sensation of a contraction begin. This means that by the time it kicks in (after 20 seconds), you will get the benefit of pain relief at the peak of your contraction.

2. Breathing should be slow, deep and steady – our Centre breath is perfect for this but a slow version of the Escalator breath can be effective too. Timing is essential to enable the gas and air to be effective. So the midwife may talk you through the first couple of contractions until you are confident in using it properly.

3. When you feel that you’ve hit the peak of the contraction and you are starting to relax down the other side, stop using the gas and air. Instead concentrate on relaxing your muscles and focus on long, slow centred breathing. This allows the gas and air to leave your system.

4. Try and keep your jaw, shoulders, arms and hand as relaxed as possible. Tension through your upper body can cause your whole body to tense. This can use adrenaline, and tension in the rest of your body – making contractions seem more difficult!

5. Get a birth partner to keep reminding you to relax your body, or better still, to hold the gas and air for you!

6. Don’t use it in between contractions otherwise you might find yourself too relaxed – stick with using it for the contractions only.⠀

7. Keep a bottle of water with a straw nearby as you may find your mouth can get very dry. And use your lip balm!

You can use it in pretty much most birthing situations so know that it’s there for you to use – you never know you may not need it!

Have you thought about using it for your birth?

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