Nitrous Oxide for Pain Management During Labor: 7 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Movies, television shows and other mediums have all contributed to the narrative that labor pain is well… painful. Of course, every woman and every pregnancy are different. At Burdett Birth Center, a variety of pain medications are available for moms-to-be, and we encourage you to work with your provider to determine which pain management option is best for you, whether you choose an epidural or a newer pain management option – nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

Since we’ve announced the availability of laughing gas at Burdett Birth Center, we’ve received numerous questions from moms-to-be. With that in mind, we decided to provide a list of seven frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to nitrous oxide for management of labor pain.

1. What is nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and how is it used during labor?

Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, or N2O is a safe and also effective sedating agent that, when mixed with oxygen (50/50), can be inhaled through a small mask that fits over your nose to help you relax. It does not put you to sleep, it just makes you feel calmer and more comfortable.

2. Who administers nitrous oxide (laughing gas)?

It is self-administered, meaning the woman in labor holds the mask herself and decides when she will inhale.

3. How does nitrous oxide (laughing gas) work?

It’s quick to start – you’ll feel it after a few breaths. Unlike an epidural, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) does not numb your body or relieve pain, as a narcotic would do. However, it helps you not think about the pain – you may feel it, but you won’t be as anxious or bothered by the pain.

4. Are there any side effects from using nitrous oxide (laughing gas)?

The side effects are very similar to that of a narcotic – but are shorter lasting. A woman might experience dizziness or nausea, but the nausea won’t increase vomiting during labor. Also, according to Dr. Ashley Hickman Zink of the UT Southwestern Medical Center, “there are no effects on uterine activity or fetal heart rate, and nitrous oxide does not result in sedation of the newborn.”

5. Will using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) slow down labor?

No – according to the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), there is no research that shows that nitrous oxide slows down labor, makes contractions less strong or less frequent.

6. Will nitrous oxide (laughing gas) affect my baby?

No – according to the American Pregnancy Association, it is safe for mom and baby: “By not disrupting the release of oxytocin, nitrous oxide does not affect infant alertness during the early bonding period between a mother and her newborn. It does not affect breastfeeding. It does not increase the need for neonatal resuscitation.”

7. Am I able to move around while using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) during labor?

Yes – you can still get up on your own and walk around, unlike with an epidural. Women can use it while on a birth ball, sitting in a rocking chair, squatting or standing. As mentioned in question #4, dizziness can be a side effect of nitrous oxide. If this is the case, a provider may want to supervise you before letting you move around on your own.

If you have any further questions about nitrous oxide for labor pain, we recommend that you talk with your healthcare provider.

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