Pain relief methods for labour

From epidurals to hypnotherapy, here’s our ultimate guide to tackling labour pain as well as notes on a few ways of giving birth that could make it easier.


TENS machine

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine sends electrical impulses through sticky pads placed at points on your lower back. This blocks pain messages as they travel through the nerves to your brain. There are many different types available, so, consult your gynae.

PROS You can hire your own unit (for instance, from Mother & Child) to use at home or bring to the hospital; few provide pain relief via this machine. It functions as a minor form of pain relief and as a distractor. You can also use it when you have early contractions at home. It’s safe for both you and baby.

CONS You need to use it from the moment you feel the first twinge and gradually increase the strength of the pulses as your contractions gain strength. We suggest practicing with it before you actually go into labour. The pulses can also get irritating with bad contractions.

Gas and air

Entonox - more commonly known as gas and air - is made up of 50 per cent nitrous oxide (NO) and 50 per cent oxygen (O2). Stored in tanks in the delivery room, you inhale it through a mouthpiece and it accumulates in your blood stream to ease pain quickly and effectively. It is the most common form of pain relief, and 50 per cent of mums find that it performs satisfactorily. It alters your state of mind so you feel less agony, rather than eliminating the pain.

PROS Inhaling through the mouthpiece gives you something to focus on. You can use it throughout your labour and it’s completely safe.

CONS Entonox can make you feel nauseous, light-headed, dizzy  even drunk. You have to start inhaling once a contraction starts, as it takes about 15 seconds to take effect. It’s also exhausting to breathe the gas and air and it can dry your mouth.


A morphine-like drug injected into your bottom or thigh, pethidine dulls the pain by acting on the nerve cells in your spine and brain, and lasts for two to three hours. Obstetricians tend not to use pethidine if you’re nearing delivery — it can cross the placenta and make your baby drowsy and slow to breathe or feed after the birth.

PROS Pethidine may help you to relax, which will make for an easier labour. In hospitals such as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the patient can self-administer the drug by pressing a button on a device.

CONS You can become dizzy or drowsy, and pethidine is not guaranteed to get rid of the pain completely. Some people have a reaction to it and may feel like they’re out of control; another drug, naloxone, is used to reverse the effects on you and the newborn, if pethidine has crossed the placenta.

Photo: INGimage

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