Cupids Health

Labour pain relief options – which option is best for you?

There are plenty of pain relief options when it comes to labour that all have their pros and cons. It’s important to take the time to swot up on each option and decide which (if any) is best for you. 

Whether you visualise having a drug-free water birth or are ready to sign up for every drug you can get your hands on, knowing all about what pain-relief options are available will help you make the right choice in labour

Click below to find out the different labour pain relief options available and the advantages and disadvantages of each… 


  • Availability: Stock up at home.
  • How it works: This over-the-counter choice blocks the production of pain-causing chemicals. It will take the edge off, but won’t affect your ability to move around or feel contractions.
  • Staying power: You’ll often be advised to take it at home while waiting for things to really get started. ‘It will help you get some sleep before you go to hospital,’ says Adele Hamilton, senior lecturer in midwifery at City University, London.
  • Control factor: Totally in your hands.
  • Duration: You can take it anytime but most women just use it in the first stage.
  • Side effects: None known
  • Watch out for: Taking too many. Always stick to the recommended dose of one to two tablets every four hours.

Read more: Everything you need to know about taking painkillers in pregnancy 

TENS Machine

Tens machine

  • Availability: You can buy your own or hire one for up to four weeks.
  • How it works: TENS stands for ‘transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation’ (we can see why they shortened it). Four sticky pads attach to your back and wires send out electrical pulses that block pain messages from your nerves to your brain. The pulses also encourage the release of endorphins, our body’s natural pain relievers.
  • Staying power: It has mixed results. Some women find it very effective, while others don’t experience any results – you really just have to try it and see how you go.
  • Control factor: You’re in charge and can regulate the degree of stimulation.
  • Duration: Can be used throughout labour, but most women need something stronger after the early stage.
  • Side effects: None known.
  • Watch out for: Getting it near the water. TENS machines are battery operated, so you’ll have to take it off if you want to be in a bath or birth pool. 

Read more: Everything you need to know about TENS machines

Water birth

Water birth

Read more: Everything you need to know about a water birth 

Gas and air

Gas and air

  • Availability: Entonox – or gas and air – is available in all hospitals and birth centres, and can also be administered at home by a midwife.
  • How it works: Made up of oxygen and nitrous oxide, it’s relaxing effect blunts pain, rather than blocking it out altogether.
  • Staying power: It takes around 30-40 seconds to kick in and continues to be effective as long as you breathe it in.
  • Control factor: You have full control and it’s easy to start and stop.
  • Duration: It can be used in all stages, but your midwife might ask you to come off it in the final stage to focus fully on pushing.
  • Side effects: Sickness, light-headedness and a dry mouth are possible.
  • Watch out for: Your timing – it takes around 30 seconds of breathing the gas to offer relief, so start inhaling Entonox as soon as you feel a contraction coming on for maximum effectiveness.

Read more: Everything you need to know about gas and air 



Read more: Everything you need to know about Pethidine



Read more: Everything you need to know about an epidural

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