Mercy’s Women & Infants’ Center recently implemented the use of nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) for patients in labor. Despite widespread use in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe, using laughing gas during labor has not been widely available in the United States until very recently. You may have used it in the past if you’ve had certain dental procedures or surgery, where it has been in use for decades.
What is nitrous oxide?
Nitrous oxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas used to decrease pain sensations. The NitronoxTM system is a blended mixture of 50 percent nitrous oxide and 50 percent oxygen that is inhaled through a mask. Patients inhale nitrous oxide through the mask provided. You must hold your own mask, which allows you to decide when to use it and how much you need.
How much does it help with labor pain?
By starting to inhale the gas mixture 30-45 seconds BEFORE your contraction, the gas will reach peak effect at about the same time your contraction reaches its peak, giving you the greatest relief.
How well nitrous oxide works depends on the individual. For some women it “takes the edge off” the peak of contraction pain enough to allow them to cope better with labor. Some women report greater pain relief. Nitrous oxide reduces anxiety, which also helps women cope better with labor pain. Some women do not like the way nitrous oxide makes them feel and/or do not find it helpful enough – these women can choose to try other options. Other pain relief options are still available after using nitrous oxide.
Will it affect my labor progression?
No. Nitrous oxide does not have any effect on your uterus or contractions and will not affect your labor progression.
How will it make me feel?
You might feel drowsy, lightheaded, or a little silly while you’re using nitrous oxide. Some women have reported nausea after prolonged use. (There are additional medications that can be given to help alleviate nausea, if necessary.) It is possible to faint (pass out or lose consciousness) temporarily if you inhale too much gas – this is why it is important that you are the ONLY person holding the mask. When your body has received enough gas, your hand will naturally fall away from your face and you will no longer be inhaling the gas, which prevents you from fainting.
What are the side effects?
Occasionally, some women experience restlessness or confusion. Most side effects go away quickly once you stop inhaling the gas. Common side effects may include dizziness, fatigue, hazy memory of events, and headache. Because every woman experiences labor and pain differently, every woman could have different side effects.
Use of nitrous oxide during your labor does not interfere with your baby’s alertness after birth. It also does not affect breastfeeding.
If you have additional questions about the use of nitrous oxide during labor, please contact the Mercy Women & Infants’ Center Birthing Unit at (515) 358-3000.
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