Laughing Gas in Labor?

Laughing Gas in Labor?

As a US trained and employed Ob/Gyn, I had never heard of using laughing gas (nitrous oxide) to help with pain during labor. It wasn’t until I worked overseas that I heard of laughing gas is an option for helping with labor pain.

One of my first days at the new hospital overseas, I was talking with a midwife about how she got her pregnant moms through labor and she told me she frequently used laughing gas to help ease their pain. My first response was “Really?” My second response was probably a bit unprofessional but definitely what I was thinking, “So do women laugh their way through labor?” I have to say, I was a bit disappointed when she told me that women don’t laugh their way through labor – but it did help to lessen their labor pain.

I had the opportunity to use laughing gas quite a bit with my patients and I did find it helped relieve pain and relax women while they labored. I can’t say that laboring women found complete pain relief, but it certainly got a number of women through labor and any procedures that I had to do after the baby was delivered. It seemed to be a good option for women who were looking for a less invasive pain control option, something other than an epidural or IV narcotics. I also noticed that women rarely complained of side effects from it and, when they did, they were minimal and for relatively minor symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, or drowsiness.

When I returned to the US, I was surprised and happy to learn that more hospitals were starting to offer nitrous oxide in labor and deliver units. However, I definitely noticed that there was a lot of skepticism about it and whether it would really work. Here are some common questions and answers about nitrous oxide that I have been asked:

How do you use it?

You give it to yourself through a hand-held device that allows you to breath-in the nitrous oxide. You should begin inhaling it 30 seconds before your contraction starts to get the best pain relief. Since you give it to yourself, you get to control how much you get and when you stop using it.

Can I give myself too much?

No, you can’t because it will start to make you feel sleepy if you start taking too much and you won’t be able to hold the device anymore. Its effects only last about five minutes, which makes overdosing even less likely.

Will it replace an epidural?

Probably not, since an epidural gives much more relief. Nitrous oxide is really a great pain option for women who want a more natural labor but still want something to help ease their pain, especially towards the end of labor.

Will it affect the baby?

One of the great things about nitrous oxide is that it doesn’t appear to cause any problems for the baby.

While this option won’t be for everyone, it is always good to know that there are more choices available to help laboring women manage their pain.

Please, feel free to share your opinions in the Comments section below.

Carrie Noriega
Dr. Carrie Noriega is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist who has practiced medicine for more than 11 years. She is Pregistry's Medical Director and a medical writer. Carrie loves spending time with her husband and daughter, mountain biking, and outdoor adventures.

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