Nitrous Oxide for Pain Relief

Genesis BirthCenter, Davenport and Genesis BirthCenter, Silvis have joined a small but increasing number of U.S. birth centers giving women the option of possibly giggling through the pain of labor contractions.

Nitrous oxide, commonly called “laughing gas,’’ was once the standard pain relief option available during childbirth. It was phased out about 60 years ago in favor of more potent pain relievers delivered intravenously or by injection.

But now nitrous oxide is slowly returning in U.S. birth centers.

What is Nitrous Oxide and how is it used for labor?

Nitrous oxide for labor pain is a mixture of 50% nitrous gas and 50% oxygen. It is inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece that a woman holds and self-administers, as she wishes. A version of nitrous oxide is used widely in dental offices, where most people know of it as “laughing gas.” The blend used for women in labor is different and does not have the same effect. The pain may still exist for some women, but the gas may create a feeling of “Painful contraction? Who cares?” Nitrous oxide has been widely used for labor for many years in Canada and Europe.

How does Nitrous Oxide work?

Nitrous oxide reduces pain and anxiety. You hold your own mask, so you decide when to use it and how much you need. Patients start to breath the gas mixture about 30 seconds before a contraction begins, allowing the pain relief to occur when the contraction reaches its peak. You can put the mask down between contractions and use it on and off as you choose.

How much does Nitrous Oxide help with labor pain?

How well nitrous oxide works differs for every woman, but as least half of women who use it say it is helpful and they would choose to use it again. Some women say that it “takes the edge off” of the peak of the contractions, enough that they are better able to cope with their labor. Others report more pain relief. Nitrous oxide also lowers anxiety. This helps you feel less tense during contractions, which may also help you cope with pain and complete a natural delivery.

How will I feel while I am using Nitrous Oxide?

You might feel drowsy, lightheaded, nauseated, or a little silly while you are using nitrous oxide. These are common side effects that go away quickly when you stop breathing the gas. Rarely, women say they feel restless or confused.

Can using Nitrous Oxide affect my baby?

No. Nitrous oxide is the only pain relief method used for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs. As soon as you pull the mask away, the effect of breathing the gas is gone within a few breaths.

Will using Nitrous Oxide affect labor progress?

No, nitrous oxide does not have any effect on your uterus (womb) or contractions.

Can I be out of bed and use Nitrous Oxide?

Yes. As long as you are steady on your feet, you may be up and about in your room with assistance.

Must I choose between using Nitrous Oxide or having an epidural?

No. Some women may use nitrous oxide before they have an epidural placed. Usually the epidural and nitrous oxide are not used at the same time. You may choose to use nitrous oxide first and then move to a different type of pain relief later in labor.

Are there any reasons I could not use Nitrous Oxide?

You cannot use nitrous oxide if you:

  • Cannot hold your own facemask.
  • Have pernicious anemia (a vitamin B12 deficiency) and take vitamin B12 supplements.
  • Have had opioids within 1 hour prior to implementation of nitrous oxide administration, or have taken Methadone, Suboxone, or Subutex with the last five days.
  • Have a few other rare medical conditions that impair oxygenation and the effects of nitrous oxide.

Birthing Options

  • Nitrous Oxide for Pain Relief