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Nitrous Oxide - A New Option for Pain During Labor

Nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas or nitrous, has been used for many years to relieve pain. While most commonly associated with dental procedures, nitrous oxide is now gaining popularity as a pain relief option for labor and birth.

Since 2017, expectant mothers planning to give birth at a Samaritan Health Services hospital have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of nitrous oxide.
While the use of nitrous oxide is not a new way to treat pain, offering it as a new option to maternity patients brings about many questions. Marge Tomcal, RN, manager of the Women’s Center at Samaritan Albany General Hospital answers the most commonly asked questions about nitrous:

How does nitrous oxide work? Nitrous oxide works by increasing the release of endorphins, corticotrophins and dopamine in your brain, which can provide relief to labor pains.

Why offer a new pain relief option? For many pregnant mothers, nitrous oxide offers a more gentle option to pain relief. It is less invasive than an epidural and is self-administered by breathing through a mask.

Within five minutes of inhaling nitrous oxide, mothers can get out of bed and continue with activities that can help progress labor, like walking, sitting in a jetted tub or using a birthing peanut.

Mothers who begin pain relief with nitrous oxide can discontinue use when they would like and still take advantage of an epidural if they choose.

What are the side effects? Some mothers may experience unsteadiness. It is important that mothers always have a support person nearby to help them get out of bed or a chair after using nitrous oxide. Mothers may also experience nausea after prolonged use.

Does it affect the baby? Nitrous oxide has no known effects on the baby. When it is inhaled, it has a rapid onset quick clearance, which means that the gas does not accumulate in the maternal or fetal tissues. It is the only pain relief method used for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs, so within a breath or two of removing the mask, the effect is gone.

Will it make me laugh? Nitrous oxide used during labor is a lower concentration than that used in a dental office. Most women do not have fits of laughter, but will experience feelings of relaxation that can help take the edge off painful contractions.

Is there a reason I shouldn’t use nitrous oxide? Certain medications and medical conditions can make nitrous unsafe. Expectant mothers will be assessed for any medical issues before being allowed use.

For more information about nitrous oxide or other pain relief options, talk with your provider or take a childbirth preparation class.