New Treatment For Labor Pain: Nitrous Oxide

Labor with Nitrous Oxide
Woman in Labor with Nitrous Oxide Mask

“Laughing Gas” is becoming a popular request in delivery rooms, rather than anesthesia.

Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas, is a greenhouse gas that is used for treatment of pain in dentist offices all over the world. In many areas of Europe and Canada, Nitrous is also used in the delivery room in place of an epidural, to take the edge off the pain while still giving the mother control of her body. Until recently, only a few hospitals in the US offered this treatment, but is now a quickly growing market as more and more expecting mothers discover its benefits.

Nitrous works differently than pain killers. It doesn’t really take the pain away, rather makes that patient distance themselves from the pain. In the case of using Nitrous during labor, doctors allow the patient to self-administer. This makes sure that the patient is satisfied with the pain levels, yet not give so much that it makes them pass out. If they do nod off, their hand will drop the mask and the gas will wear off within a few breaths of air. It allows for productive pushing, without the risk of tearing. Epidurals are more prone to tearing, as the pelvic region is so numb, it is easy to push too hard or too long. The highest benefit is that it can be administered at any time during the labor and delivery process.

Nitrous oxide also offers minimal side-effects. The most common are drowsiness or nausea, typically resulting from heavily concentrated gas. This can be fixed easily with by increasing the oxygen. There is a risk of loss of consciousness, however, self-administration helps prevent that risk. Additionally, there is no harm to the baby, and it doesn’t directly lead to complications that require further treatment.

This treatment is incredibly cost effective also. It is much less expensive than anesthesiologist fees, hard-to-pronounce medicine cocktails, and fancy needles and catheters. No huge companies stand to profit much from the gas either, so for those anti-pharmaceutical fans out there, here’s one of the few that surprisingly has stayed under the radar and has avoided being over-controlled.

While some women may choose to have Nitrous instead of an epidural, they play rather nicely together, and can create a very pleasant birthing experience while partnered. Many women use the Nitrous as their contractions climb in severity, and switch to an epidural later when they are far enough along. In some other cases, the epidural may wear off prematurely or not work as effectively as it is supposed to, and the patient might supplement with Nitrous during delivery. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Even though Nitrous oxide is used by many hospitals in the US, it still has not been evaluated very thoroughly for use during labor, and is not recognized by many medical boards as a recommended treatment.

No drug is without warnings or dangers, and every situation is different. If you are considering Nitrous during your birthing experience, talk to your doctor about risks and availability.