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If birth needs a helping hand

It is important that you understand what options are available or may be required during your birthing experience.

Pain relief medication

Pain relief medication may be a welcome relief during the birthing process – however it is important that you understand the benefits and the potential risks associated so the best decision for you and your baby can be made.

Entonox - Nitrous oxide

Entonox is a mixture of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oxygen. It is delivered through a tube held in the mouth. The gas takes about 30 to 45 seconds to have an effect. You need to start breathing it in as soon as you feel the contraction start so that you get the maximum benefit when the contraction is at its most intense.


  • Can be used all throughout labour
  • Crosses the placenta but is not known to have any effect on your baby and is not known to have any negative impact on breastfeeding
  • You can stop using the gas at any time with no lasting effect
  • Dosage rate can be increased or decreased throughout labour


  • May make your mouth and throat feel dry
  • You may experience a tingling in your fingers (this is due to ‘over breathing’)
  • It is important to remove the mouth piece from your mouth when the contraction has finished so that you are breathing normal room air. This will help make sure you do not ‘over breathe’ the gas which could lead to loss of consciousness.
  • You may experience a feeling of light headedness or a little disorientation
  • You may experience nausea or vomiting

Opiates – pethidine and morphine

Opiate painkilling drugs (if requested) will be given by injection into the muscle of your thigh or buttock. It normally takes 15 to 20 minutes to take effect. If it is given directly into your bloodstream (via a drip) it will normally take only 5 to 10 minutes to take effect.


  • Opiates take the edge off the pain and help you to relax for 2 to 3 hours
  • You can have a second dose in labour if necessary


  • Needs to be given as an injection
  • Need to have a vaginal examination prior to administration to confirm cervical dilation (can slow labour – so is usually administered once your cervix is 4cm dilated)
  • You may experience a feeling of  drowsiness or disorientation that lasts 2 to 3 hours
  • You may experience nausea or vomiting
  • If given in large doses too close to the birth of your baby, opiates can make you and your baby sleepy and can slow down the baby’s breathing at birth. The baby may then require some resuscitation methods and may delay successful breastfeeding

Epidural Block

Epidural blocks are given by injection and are inserted into the epidural space near your spine through a fine plastic tube. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to take effect. They are used during both vaginal and caesarean births, because they allow you to stay awake and alert during your baby’s birth. This injection will make you feel numb from the waist down.

As this is a more complex form of pain relief please read Epidural Pain Relief for your Labour or discuss this with your midwife or doctor during your antenatal appointments.

Induction of Labour

If you have not gone into labour 7-10 days after your due date, or we think that baby needs to be delivered because of complications, we may discuss inducing your labour. This means using one or more of the methods outlined in the Induction of Labour - Parent Information Sheet. It is important to consider your choices, the benefits and the risks associated with these methods.

Assisted Birth

Assisted birth can include the doctor having to help baby's birth by a vacuum cup or forceps. This can happen if your baby is in distress (abnormal heart rate telling us your baby is not coping) and needs to be delivered quickly or if you are too tired to be able to push your baby out. Please discuss these methods with your doctor or midwife.

Caesarean Section

There are two types of caesarean section (c-section); a planned c-section (otherwise known as an elective c-section) and an unplanned c-section (otherwise known as an emergency c-section).

It is a good idea to research what might happen if a c-section is recommended and the decisions you may need to make in this situation.

Last updated: 30 April 2018