Have you heard about this new option for pain relief in labor – nitrous oxide?
Well, to be fair it’s technically not new. Nitrous oxide, a tasteless, odorless gas made up of 50% nitrous and 50% oxygen, has long been used in other countries like England, Canada, Australia and more. It was used in the United States in the 50’s but fell out of favor when epidurals became a more popular form of pain management. It has become a topic of interest for many, now that nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) is coming back into use.
Women are interested in less invasive methods of pain relief and nitrous oxide is exactly that.
Studies have shown that it is safe and has very few side effects. The most commonly reported side effect is nausea or dizziness. It does not appear to change the progress of labor or the ability to push. It may help a mother to delay or limit her use of narcotic epidural medications, which have more severe side effects and can interfere with labor progress.
So how does it work?
In many hospitals, a mobile cart, stocked with two gas tanks, is rolled up to your bedside by a nurse or midwife. Connected to this is a hose with a gas mask. When you want to breathe in the gas, you put the mask over your mouth and breathe deeply in and out. The effects of the gas are felt very quickly and it leaves your system within minutes after you stop breathing it in.
With nitrous oxide, labor pain is not numbed. You will still feel it. The difference is that you may be distracted from the pain. Women report caring less about or even momentarily forgetting the pain. It may decrease your anxiety and make you feel more relaxed. This change in mindset can make labor more tolerable.
Nitrous oxide is completely controlled and self-administered.
You can access it or stop it when you want. Many women notice that it works best for them if they start breathing it at least 30 seconds before the contraction begins or as soon as there is any sign that one is ramping up. The result is peak levels of the gas corresponding with the peak of the contraction, providing greater relief. It can take some practice to get the pattern worked out, but women quickly discover the best rhythm to manage their pain.
It also allows for more mobility than the confinement required during the use of an epidural. You can still move or change positions to cope with your contractions if needed.
Nitrous oxide can be used any time in labor right up to birth. There is usually not much wait time from when you request it to when you receive and start using it.
Many of our clients have used nitrous oxide and were glad that they did, but each person may have a different experience. So if it’s not for you, you can stop breathing it immediately and it will be gone within minutes.
If you are interested in nitrous oxide, speak to your care provider to find out if they support its use in labor. Some of the local birth locations that we know offer nitrous oxide include: Tampa General Hospital, Florida Hospital Tampa, Morton Plant, Mease Countryside, Breath of Life Birth Center and Sweet Child of Mine Birth Center.