Pain Relief In Labour: Your Options

Pregnant woman in labour / labor / during childbirth / giving birth breathes / breathing gas and air pain killer / painkiller in an NHS hospital. (53)
Pregnant woman in labour / labor / during childbirth / giving birth breathes / breathing gas and air pain killer / painkiller in an NHS hospital. (53)

Unless you're one of the incredibly rare breed of women who manages to expel a baby from her uterus with little more than a wince, the chances are labour is going to present some pain.

Some women are fearful of it from the moment they see a blue line on a pregnancy test stick, others are more stoical and give themselves up to the inevitability of it. But whichever camp you're in (or wherever you fall in between), it's a good idea to be clued up about the various types of pain relief that will be available to you come B(aby)-Day!

Probably the first thing that's worth saying is, even if you write a birth plan, accept that not every birth does go to plan.

You might be adamant that you want no drugs during labour but your feelings could change on the day, and there is nothing wrong with that. For now, just arm yourself with information, plan how things will happen in an ideal world and, as much as you can, keep an open mind.


Being in water can be remarkably effective at reducing labour pains. It seems to take pressure off the back and relax the muscles, which makes things more bearable. Some women who opt for water births manage to deliver their baby with either no drugs, or with just a bit of gas and air (see below for more on that).

Of course, that's not always the case. If the water isn't helping you enough, you can simply get out of the pool, and ask for different pain relief.

Where? You may be able to have a water birth at home (by buying or hiring your own birthing pool), or at the hospital or midwife-led birthing centre, if a pool is available when you go into labour. If a water birth was never on your agenda, a warm (not hot!) bath at home might help relax you when labour first starts.

When? Some studies have suggested it's better to stay out of the water until you are at least 5cm dilated, as being in the pool might slow down the earlier stages of labour.


A TENS machine can be a wonderful thing. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (so you can see why it has been shortened) and it works by reducing the pain signals which are sent to the brain by the spinal cord.

TENS might also stimulate the body to produce more endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers.

You can either buy a TENS machine, or hire one – a rental period is likely to be several weeks, to ensure you have the machine when you need it.

You use the machine by taping electrodes to your back. These are connected to a hand-held, battery powered stimulator which you can use to administer small (and safe) amounts of electrical current.

Where? You can use TENS at home or in a hospital/birthing centre.

When? TENS is most useful for the early stages of labour, to relieve lower back pain. It's less likely to be very effective later on, when contractions are coming on stronger.


Gas and air (or Entonox) is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. A cylinder will be placed next to you, and you inhale the gas in either via a mask, or a handheld mouthpiece.

It can take a little bit of practice to get the timing right. You need to start breathing the gas slowly and deeply as soon as you feel a contraction starting. It can take up to 20 seconds to feel any effect.

Gas and air doesn't relieve pain entirely, it's more a mild painkiller which offers a calming effect – but for some women, it takes the edge off just enough. More than 802C51800182923FFEB00&videoControlDisplayColor=%23191919&shuffle=0&isAP=1">