A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Laugh off labor pain with nitrous oxide

two young parents laughing / nitrous oxide use in child birth

When creating your birth plan, ask your provider about nitrous oxide as an option for labor pain.

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a familiar pain reliever for dental appointments. Laughing gas also can be a pain relief option for mothers during labor and birth.

Nitrous oxide is blended with oxygen and inhaled for analgesia, which reduces the ability to feel pain. Although uncommon in the United States, Europe and Canada have been using this pain reliever for years instead of labor epidurals and IV sedation.

“It is an untapped resource in our community,” said Kathryn Van Dreese, a Marshfield Clinic certified nurse midwife, “but extremely effective, safe and a great patient satisfier.”

Is nitrous oxide better?

Van Dreese says nitrous oxide isn’t better than epidurals or IV sedation, but it is different and could serve different purposes. With an epidural, continuous monitoring is needed, and usually your legs become numb, restricting you to a bed. Nitrous oxide does not require additional monitoring and you can move around and even lay in a tub while using it.

It is self-administered through a mask that the woman is holding herself,” Van Dreese said. “Once a woman decides she no longer wants it, she simply stops using it.”

You can place the mask on before a contraction starts, allowing for pain relief during the contraction. After a contraction is complete, you can remove it from your face. Van Dreese said once you stop inhaling the nitrous oxide, all effects are gone within five minutes.

Although common side effects include nausea, vomiting and dizziness, nitrous oxide does not affect the normal progress of labor or increase rates of cesarean sections.

“Nitrous oxide, unlike IV analgesia, is very safe to use during pushing and delivery,” said Van Dreese. “There have been no studies that have identified significant adverse effects on the neonate, as well as no increased need for neonatal resuscitation.”

If interested in nitrous oxide, talk to your provider to understand your options.

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