What is nitrous oxide?
Most people know nitrous oxide by the name “laughing gas." When used for labor pain, it is a mix of 50 percent nitrous gas and 50 percent oxygen that you breathe in through a face mask. Nitrous oxide has been used for many years in Canada, Europe and Australia to help women cope with labor pain. We are happy that it is now available for you at Legacy Health.
How does it work?
About 30 seconds before a labor pain is about to begin, you will hold the face mask around your face and breathe in to begin the flow of the gas. You will be in control of how much nitrous you receive by how many breaths you take and how deeply you inhale. Nitrous oxide does not affect the progress of your labor.
How will I feel?
Each woman has a different experience when using nitrous oxide. Most women feel that it helps “take the edge off” of their contractions and helps them cope with their labor better. Some women feel more relaxed because nitrous oxide decreases anxiety.
Other women don’t find nitrous helpful or don’t like the way it makes them feel. Remember, you can stop nitrous at any time and other pain relief methods can be used.
You will stay awake and be able to walk and talk. You should feel more relaxed and maybe a little sleepy. You will still feel pain but you may not care as much about it. You may have peaceful or happy sensations.
Some women feel a little lightheaded. If that happens, you can stop breathing the gas and the feeling will pass quickly.
Are there side effects?
Some women report nausea. If that happens, there is medicine to help ease the nausea. You may feel a little unsteady on your feet so you should get out of bed with the help of a family member or staff person.
Does it affect the baby?
No—there are no known effects on the baby. Nitrous oxide is the only pain relief method for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs. That means when you pull the mask away, the nitrous effect is gone in just a few breaths.
Using nitrous oxide does not require extra fetal monitoring.
Who administers the nitrous oxide?
You do. It is very important that you are the only person holding the mask. You can tell right away if you are getting sleepy or feel light- headed and can stop inhaling the gas until those feelings go away. If a family member or staff person held the mask, they could give you too much gas.
Can I use nitrous oxide and have intravenous (IV) pain medicine at the same time?
No. Using both nitrous oxide and IV pain medication at the same time could make you too sleepy and you would need special monitoring by an anesthesia doctor.
If you want to switch to IV pain medication, that is perfectly fine. You will just need to stop using the nitrous oxide.
Do I have to choose between having an epidural or using nitrous oxide?
No. You can change your mind! You may first use nitrous oxide and later decide you want to have an epidural.
Are there any reasons that I could not use nitrous oxide?
Yes, just a few. You cannot use nitrous oxide if you:
- Have a known Vitamin B 12 deficiency
- Have medical conditions your doctor or midwife think put you at risk
- Are not able to hold your own mask
Can I still be out of bed while using nitrous oxide?
Yes, as long as you are steady on your feet and have another person with you.
Learn more about having your baby at Legacy Health.
Additional questions? Please ask your OB provider or labor and delivery nurse.
Humans have used the soothing properties of warm water for centuries. Floating in warm water eases pain, creates buoyancy and freedom of movement, decreases anxiety, and assists in muscle relaxation. European countries have long capitalized on these soothing properties for women in labor.
European studies have shown a lower use of pain medication, decreased need for medicines to stimulate labor, decreased perception of pain, and high patient satisfaction, among other benefits, during labor and delivery in a birth tub. Women in the United States are now asking for this option as part of their labor and birth care.
Water birth is part of a philosophy of care that includes continuous labor support; involvement of the woman's supportive family and/or friends; freedom of movement and positioning during labor and birth; non-intervention when labor and birth are unfolding normally; and creation of a safe, calm, and supportive environment in which labor and birth can occur.
If you are interested in water birth, you can get more information from Waterbirth International at Waterbirth.org or ask your midwife or physician.