• Paula Schnebelt

The Safety and Efficacy of Nitrous Oxide During Labor

Have you ever heard of laughing gas? Like…the stuff they give you at the dentist’s office to make a procedure a little more bearable? Well, various hospitals and birth center in the U.S. have begun to incorporate this little wonder into their birth toolkits. Now, what is this laughing gas, exactly? Most commonly, it is a substance made of 50% nitrous and 50% oxygen. To use it, you inhale in the gas whenever you feel you need it (for instance, during an uncomfortable contraction) and as a result, you may experience a rush of endorphins as well as other hormones that will most likely lessen your sensation of pain, or at least make it a little more tolerable. Of course, everyone experiences labor differently, so the results may vary from woman to woman. But essentially, nitrous oxide can often make labor more bearable by producing a sense of euphoria, or taking the edge off of your contractions.

According to Mama Natural, some reasons as to why nitrous oxide could be considered a better alternative to other pain management techniques are as follows:

  • It is not stored in the body, and more than 99% leaves the body as you exhale

  • It does not cross the placenta, unlike some other narcotics or pharmaceuticals (i.e., epidurals)

  • It does not interfere with the body’s natural ability to produce other hormones, such as oxytocin

  • It does not increase the risk of neonatal resuscitation

  • It does not affect breastfeeding

  • The dosage is controlled completely by the patient/laboring woman

  • It often does not require fetal monitoring

  • It does not affect the baby’s alertness following birth

  • It allows for the mother’s freedom of movement

  • It acts as an instant on/off version of pain management and can be started or stopped quickly and at any time

Like every medical intervention, there are potential side effects, such as dizziness, headache, fatigue, detachment, etc. that have been reported by some women that have utilized this pain management technique. Additionally, it is also not recommended for women with low vitamin B12 levels, including vegans, women with Crohn’s disease, and those with the MTHFR gene mutation. All in all, it is best to consult with your primary care provider if you are considering using this method, if it is offered at your hospital or birth center.

Do you know of anyone that has used nitrous oxide during their labor process? If it is something you would consider utilizing, it might be helpful to ask them of their experiences with it to help you decide if it is the right option for you! It is great that this tool is becoming more prevalent, particularly in hospitals because it could really help combat the use of epidurals. Epidurals can be very beneficial in many circumstances; however, many women do not realize the risks when they ask for one, and from current research, it appears as though the risks from epidurals far exceed the risks from nitrous oxide use.


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