Home birth pain relief options

Midwives have a range of pain relief options available for home births. Read about your options, including using pethidine and entonox (gas and air) during labour here.

Women who give birth at home consistently rate the experience as less painful than a hospital birth. This may be because they are more relaxed and feel more in control. However, there is no doubt that managing labour pain is challenging for most women, wherever they deliver their babies. Some choose self-help techniques alone, while others combine these with drugs supplied by their midwife.

Home birth pain relief drugs

Pain-relieving drugs available for use at home include:

  • Entonox (gas and air) inhaled through a mouthpiece or mask to reduce the intensity of pain during labour; women often say that it takes the edge off their contractions.
  • Pethidine and other injected opiates: these relax your skeletal muscles and may make you feel sleepy, as if you were drunk, or confused. Some women love it, but others find it does not relieve their pain, and can make them feel nauseous and helpless. These drugs may make your baby sleepier and slower to start breastfeeding. Talk to your midwife about whether pethidine is suitable for you.

Epidurals and spinal blocks are only on offer in hospital, as these must be given by an anaesthetist. If you decide during your labour at home that you want an epidural, you can transfer to hospital. Your midwife may phone ahead to try to arrange for this to be given soon after your arrival.

Managing pain: self-help techniques

You might find these tools for managing labour pain useful:

  • different positions to help you feel most comfortable,
  • movement such as swaying, walking, dancing, circling hips,
  • focusing on breathing out very slowly, panting or blowing,
  • vocalisation (making sounds e.g. singing, moaning, humming),
  • distraction such as keeping busy, watching TV, listening to music,
  • using water by getting in a warm bath, the shower or pool,
  • using a TENS (transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation) machine and/or
  • relaxation techniques.

Some of these options, such as distraction, are most useful in early labour, while others, such as warm water, movement and focusing on your breathing, can be invaluable all the way through.

As labour progresses, trust your instincts about what pain relief options might help and suit you best.

Further information

The results of the Birthplace study were released in December 2011 and provide useful information for parents about their choices.

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about labour and life with a new baby. Other NCT resources include:

  • NCT's shared experiences register, which enables mothers to talk to other women who have had similar experiences. Call 0300 330 0770 or email enquiries@nct.org.uk.
  • Local NCT homebirth support groups. Call 0300 330 0770 or email enquiries@nct.org.uk.

If you would like to read more about the evidence on the safety and other advantages and disadvantages of having a baby at home, the following are good resources:

The Home Birth Reference Site provides information and opinions about having your baby at home, for parents who think that it might be the right choice for them, and for health professionals looking for resources. 

BirthChoiceUK provides information on choosing maternity care to help parents make the right choice for them.