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Gas & Air ….Your Questions Answered!

Written by Amina Hatia RM
Medically reviewed by Marley Hall BA RM Diphe
June 23, 2021

We’ve all heard about gas and air, often called laughing gas, being used in labour and stories of the often hilarious effects on the person using it.  In fact, most films and tv shows will often portray a woman using it furiously whilst she is rushed off to have her baby.

And whilst it’s a funny image, it does somewhat undermine and trivialise this great form of pain relief that’s available in all birth settings – at home, in a birth centre, in a labour ward – everywhere in fact.

Entonox – the medical term for gas and air, is the most popular pain relief during labour with around 80% of women choosing to use it.

Entonox is an odourless gas, that is an equal combination of oxygen and nitrous oxide that you inhale through a mouthpiece. As the gas enters your bloodstream, it will reduce and can significantly take the edge off your pain sensation relaxing your muscles and possibly making you feel light-headed, or even making you giggle!

As midwives we’ve seen it affect people in all sorts of ways – from the gigglers to the ones who start sharing their innermost thoughts, to the comedienne who finds herself hilarious, to the one who loves everyone and everything in the room!  Nothing you say or do would shock or phase us at all – because we have seen it all!

So when would you use gas & air?

You can use gas and air whenever you want – even before labour, during an induction of labour for example. Gas and air is easy to use. Simply put the mouthpiece, which is only yours and disposable, between your lips or teeth and breathe deeply and evenly until you feel slightly light-headed then take it away.

Biting down on the mouthpiece can also help you cope with the pain of contractions. After a few seconds, you’ll feel normal again.

“It takes a little practice to get the hang of it – and about 30 seconds for the pain relief to really take effect.  Start using the gas & air as soon as you feel a contraction starting, so by the time the contraction is at its peak you are getting the full effect of Entonox,” advised NowBaby midwife Amina.

How effective is Entonox?

This is subjective – some find it really helpful and use it throughout labour, whereas others find it works best for them in the early stages of labour.  How effective it is will depend on what kind of labour and birth you are having, how well supported you are and how confident you are feeling too. 

Does Entonox have side effects?

There are no significant side effects for you or your baby when used appropriately – in other words, during contractions only.

You may feel dizzy or nauseous, and you may often experience a dry mouth.  Have a bottle of water on hand and ensure you take regular sips.  Ice chips can also help – especially when it’s hot outside! 

When can I use Entonox?

Any time when you’re in labour. A midwife will bring it with them if you’re planning a home birth.

The benefits of 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
  • It can help find a pattern with your 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.
  • You can have gas and air when, and as much, as you want during labour.

The cons

  • It is quite a mild pain relief, compared with epidural, and you may find you want something stronger
  • It can cause you to feel drowsy and sick, and make your mouth feel dry if you use it for long periods of time
  • It takes around 30 seconds of breathing for the gas and air to get into your system so it might take you a while to get the timing right so that it’s effective at the peak of your contractions.

And finally for partners – we know many of you have a sneaky go when the midwife is out of the room, we always know when it’s happened!  A quick try we can turn a blind eye to – but if you’re hogging it whilst your partner is in labour, we will intervene!