Giving Birth - Pain Relief Options

There are various methods of pain relief available.

Gas and air (entonox)

It is inhaled either using a mask or a mouth piece during contractions. It is quick to take effect and wears off almost immediately when you stop using it. It takes the edge off the pain rather than stopping it altogether. Gas and air also helps you to relax.


  • Can remain mobile.
  • No effects on the baby.
  • Can be used with other methods of pain relief


  • Can cause nausea.

Pethadine and diamorphine

 These are painkillers, administered by injection and can be given every 3-4 hours. They offer some pain relief but do not block the pain. They have a sedative effect, so you may be able to get some sleep during early labour.


  • Lessens the pain and helps you to relax.         
  • Can be administered by midwives.
  • You can still move about during labour.


  • Can cause you to be nauseous.
  • They can make you feel high.
  •  If given close to birth they can cross the placenta and make your baby sleepy.


An epidural is the most effective form of pain relief during labour. You first have a local anaesthetic injected into your back to numb the area. Then a thin plastic tube is inserted through a hollow needle, into the spine. It can then be topped up if required. You will also have to have a catheter to your bladder, as you lose the sensation of needing to wee.


  • Most effective form of pain relief.  
  • Can be topped up if you have long labour.
  • Does not make you sleepy or woozy.
  • No effects on the baby.


  • Can make labour last longer.
  • Will leave you unable to move around.
  • Can leave you with headaches.
  • You are more likely to need forceps or ventouse, as you lose the ability to feel yourself pushing.
  • Need an anaesthetist to administer an epidural.

Mobile epidural

A lower strength of anaesthetic is given, so that you will be able to move your legs. This means you can move into different positions during labour. As the dose of anaesthetic is reduced, then obviously the level of pain relief will not be as good as with a normal epidural.


  • Effective level of pain relief. 
  • You can move around during labour.
  • You will not need a catheter.


  • Mobile epidurals not always available. 
  • They have to be given by an anaesthetist.

Tens machine

Tens machines send electrical impulses to your brain, to help block out the pain of the contractions. Two pads are attached to your back, which are connected to the battery operated Tens machine. It also increases the amount of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. You need to use a Tens machine from the early stages of labour. They are available to hire (from hospitals or chemists).


  • Natural pain relief, which is non-intrusive.
  • Can be used with other methods of pain relief.
  • Good for helping with early contractions.


  • Although some women find they give adequate pain relief, lots find that they are not strong enough to deal with the later stages of labour.

General anaesthetic

This is usually given during an emergency caesarean.

Birthing pool

The warm water from the pool, relaxes the body, easing the pain of the contractions. You may find that a bath early in labour has a relaxing effect. You can’t use a birthing pool if you have had an epidural, an induction, or are being constantly monitored. You can’t use a Tens machine in the water. In hospital it will depend on the availability of the pools, as to whether you can have a water birth.

Natural pain relief

With any of the therapies listed, it is important that you use a therapist who I qualified. The websites listed with the therapies, will be able to provide you with registers of therapists. You will need to consult your GP or midwife before having any treatments.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

For more information about acupuncture check out the website of the British Medical Acupuncture Society >>

Aromatherapy, Massage, Reflexology, Reike

For more information about aromatherapy, massage, reflexology and reik check out the website of the Federation of Holistic Therapist >>

Breathing, Meditation and Visualisation

Check out the the UK Therapy Directory >> for a list of practioners. For guided meditations and visualisation exercises go to the Holistic Healing section of >>


For more information on hypnosis take a look at ther website for the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis >>

Other things that may help

Movement; rocking, swaying your hips, using a birthing ball. Music; from whale music to The Sex Pistols, whatever helps you? Shouting, screaming and swearing; as loud as you like, it will make you feel better (don’t worry, the midwives have heard it all before). Chanting has a very calming and soothing effect, but it doesn’t quite give the satisfaction, as a string of well timed expletives!