The Use of Drugs

If there comes a point in your labour where the methods you have been using no longer seem to meet your needs, there are other choices available. This section looks at the conventional drugs available to you.



The most common drug used to give relief from pain in labour is pethidine. This is a drug that is similar to morphine and is usually given by injection into your leg or bottom. If you choose to have pethidine, you will usually have the injection within about 5 minutes of asking for it; it should take effect within about 20 minutes and last for at least a couple of hours. It may have side effects and make you sleepy, feel sick, and if given near to the time of birth, may also make the baby sleepy and therefore slow in taking its first few breaths – this effect can be reversed by giving the baby an injection.  If given close to delivery, pethidine can also make your baby sleepy and may interfere with baby's first feed. 


This is a drug that is given in the form of an injection and is commonly used for pain relief in labour. It does not completely take away the pain of contractions, but it does help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable. There are side effects to these drugs, which can make you feel a bit sick, but giving you another drug with them can help counteract this.  Meptid is less likely to make you feel drowsy than pethidine and less likely to give your baby breathing difficulties.  It also works quicker than pethidine (in around 15 mins).  However, if given close to delivery, meptid can make your baby sleepy and may interfere with baby's first feed

Gas and air (Entonox)

Also known as ‘laughing gas’, this is a mixture of oxygen and a gas called nitrous oxide that you inhale through a mouthpiece or a face mask (the preference should be yours). Research shows that women find it useful but it may not be very effective in actually lessening the pain.  Entonox can make you feel sick, dizzy or lightheaded and may limit how much you can walk about.   On the other hand,  you are in control of how much you use it, it works in 30-40 seconds but with no lasting effect and apparently has no unpleasant side effects on your baby.  Entonox doesn’t stop you wanting to push and you can use it right up to the moment of giving birth.


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