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Nitrous Oxide aka Laughing Gas Now Offered for Labor Pain

Labor pain is no laughing matter. We know that this is something that is on the minds of a lot of moms-to-be as their due date approaches. Nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, is used mainly in dental offices, but like a lot of fashion trends, music artists and movie franchises, it is now making a comeback. At Burdett Birth Center, we now offer nitrous oxide as a pain-relief alternative during labor.

According to research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)many Western countries use laughing gas as their primary way to relieve labor pain; 60 percent of women in the United Kingdom and 50 percent in Australia, Canada and Finland. In the United States, epidurals are most commonly used method of labor pain relief. However, there has been a movement of interest in laughing gas over the last decade, thanks in part to groups such as the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

So, what exactly is nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and how is it used during labor? The gas itself is tasteless and odorless. It is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a mask. During labor, a woman holds the mask herself and decides when she will inhale, making this labor analgesic self-administered. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that this labor analgesic (pain reliever) is safe for mother and for baby. While some women may feel a little dizzy or nauseous, this usually goes away within minutes. The American Pregnancy Association also agrees that this is a safe analgesic. Usage does not affect breastfeeding. Though, it is not recommended for women who are vitamin B12 deficient.

So, how does nitrous oxide differ from common pain management methods? Epidural and spinal blocks are common choices to help easy pain during labor and delivery. Epidurals use one or more pain medications injected by an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist via catheter into the space outside the spinal cord in your lower back. Spinal blocks are usually used more during a C-section or in an emergency labor situation. An epidural takes 15 minutes to take effect while a spinal block is immediate. Nitrous oxide takes effect within one minute. Under all three methods, you remain awake and alert during labor. Both epidural and spinal blocks alleviate lower body pain in your lower body region. However, you won’t be able to walk during labor. Nitrous oxide does not eliminate pain, but it can reduce anxiety and feeling of well-being which makes it easier for women to deal with the pain of labor.

At Burdett Birth Center, we recently had our first patient use laughing gas, and everything went very well. We like to say “Your birth experience… your way.”  As a result, we like to inform moms-to-be of all options available related to labor, delivery and care. If you have any questions about nitrous oxide and other options for pain management available to you, please consult your provider.

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