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Using Laughing Gas to Ease Labor Pains

This post is sponsored by Mercy Medical Center -- Des Moines

using laughing gas during labor and deliveryMercy’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.

using laughing gas during labor and deliveryHow will nitrous oxide affect my baby?

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.


Connect with Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines 

Website: mercydesmoines.org

Twitter: @MercyDesMoines

Facebook: @mercydesmoines

Instagram: @mercydesmoines 

Pinterest: @MercyDesMoines 


The post is part of a series of sponsored post by Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines. 

Is My Baby’s Poop Normal? 

Tips for Potty Training Toddlers

How to Prepare for Having a Baby

The Role of an OB Nurse

Important Medications for Newborns

Why to Add a Doula to Your Delivery Team

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2 Responses to Using Laughing Gas to Ease Labor Pains

  1. Steph M. July 13, 2018 at 6:21 pm #

    Would this be an option instead of an epidural or are both options available? I’m wondering if it’s more effective than an epidural or perhaps less painful.

    • Sarah Todd July 13, 2018 at 7:44 pm #

      Hi Steph! Thanks for your question about the nitrous oxide gas option.

      You can use nitrous oxide gas instead of an epidural or have both. However, you can’t have nitrous gas after an epidural, only before. Nitrous oxide gas doesn’t provide the same pain relief that an epidural does. It is less painful because you don’t receive an injection, and you just breathe through a mask as you wish.

      Let us know if you have any other questions.

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