Hey you! So, I always rave about how gas and air helped me in labour. I breathed in that magical stuff like my life depended on it. Because, well, it did.
Every contraction hit me like a tonne of very ugly shit and I couldn't believe I had to keep going. I held on to that mask so tight I had a blister on my hands afterwards. I've often wondered how it works and I regularly bang on about how every new mum should be sent home with a canister and then post natal depression just would not exist. Hell, every person who suffers the blues should have a canister. A big old hit of that on a regular basis and we'd all be much happier. Stub your toe? breathe it in. Period pain? you need a good movie and a tank of gas...
Anyway, I digress. Last time I saw Katie I finally remembered to ask her how it works and she has very kindly written a guest post for me. For those of you who don't know, Katie is our friendly science genius, she can explain pretty much how anything works in ways you can understand and enjoy. Your IQ increases instantly after reading a post on her blog The Molecular Circus. Read this then get over there. There's cake.
I like to know how stuff works, me. I am constantly wondering about
the world around me, and there’s almost nothing I love more than people
asking me questions I don’t know the answer to because it means I get to
go away and FIND STUFF OUT. So, when Anna asked me to write a post on
how gas and air works for her, you can imagine I was giddy with
excitement. Not least because now, if I do one day have children, I now
won’t have to spend my labour annoying the midwives by asking “but how
does it WORK guys?!”, in amongst the swearing and yelling.
gas and air. Isn’t it AMAZING that a simple mixture of 50% oxygen and
50% nitrous oxide can miraculously alleviate pain? It is. So how does it
work? Well, the issue here is… nobody really knows for certain. This is
always a frustrating answer to come up against, but it happens really
quite often in science. We don’t know more than we do know.
This is what we DO know, though.
and air is a 50:50 mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide
has the chemical symbol N2O, meaning it is made up of two molecules of
nitrogen and one of oxygen, stuck together in a little ball of molecular
pain relief. As anyone who’s ever had a baby, or been particularly
freaking terrified at the dentist will know, you don’t swallow gas and
air, you inhale it. The reason for this is that it gets the good stuff
to your blood stream Very Quickly. As you inhale, the gas whizzes into
your lungs and diffuses into your bloodstream via the alveoli. Once in
your blood, it can move into cells and start getting some shit done.
is where our knowledge gets… fuzzy. The neurons on your brain have a
whole host of receptors sticking out of them, just hanging out, waiting
for a friendly molecule to come along and interact. When a molecule
interacts with a receptor, gives it a great big cuddly molecular hug,
something happens. The thing that happens varies from receptor to
receptor, and sometimes also depends on which molecule comes along for a
cuddle. N2O is one of these cuddly molecules.
So, N2O seems to
bind to two types of receptors in the brain; NMDA receptors and GABA
receptors. No-one is quite sure how this causes pain relief, or
euphoria, or indeed nausea or dizziness or any other of the less fun
side-effects of gas and air.
However, gas and air does
also do some other things that we do understand a bit better. For one
thing, it runs around the brain promoting the release of natural
painkillers, the opioid endorphins. You can imagine it, careering around
the brain, in between hugging receptors, shouting from a loudspeaker
“Bring out your opioid endorphins! Bring out your opoid endorphins!”
And out they come.
natural painkillers work by heading down into your body, and binding
and hugging their own receptors, the opioid receptors. When they bind,
this has a knock-on effect, which prevents nerve cells from sending
messages of pain up the spinal cord, to the brain. At the business end
of things, the pain-causing actions still take place, but your nerves
are blocked from sending the message of pain to your brain. Your body
uses this mechanism to stop you noticing pain, when it’s necessary. All
the nitrous oxide in gas and air does is act to stimulate this
If you are pregant, I highy recommend that you breathe the gas and air in using huge deep breaths. That's what I did and it helped me so much. It made me feel gloriously drunk. I have heard of people getting quite sick but amongst the people I know it sounded like that was because they took small gasps of it.
Anyone have anything to add to that? Did it help you?