Does Nitrous Oxide Really Get Rid of Labor Pain?

nitrous oxide

It has recently been announced that laughing gas (aka Nitrous Oxide) as a pain analgesia during labor is now available to you in some DC, Maryland, and Virginia hospitals. This is an exciting development and offers women something besides an epidural to manage pain. 

Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Unlike epidurals, laughing gas doesn't seem to increase the risk of cesarean, forceps, or vacuum delivery.
  2. Laughing gas can be controlled by you. You can choose when to breathe in the gas and when to not use it.
  3. It is a less expensive than epidurals.
  4. It allows you to remain in control of her body and move in ways that will help your baby descend.

However, it isn't all laughs folks (see what I did there ;). It never is. Interventions always come with some risks and pitfalls so let's keep these in mind:

  1. It isn't 100% effective. Although laughing gas may take the edge off the pain, if you are tense, scared, not using multiple pain management techniques, its effects may not work or may decrease with time.
  2. You still gotta get to the gas. Unless you have a tank hooked up at your house (invite me over), you're going to be waiting until your contractions are strong and around five minutes apart before you head to where the gas actually is. That is a long time to manage labor pain without the gas or any other form of pain medication. So again, it is important to know and be ready to use multiple forms of pain management. 
  3. It does come with side effects. Some women who used nitrous oxide reported nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness. 
  4. It does pass through the placenta but is quickly eliminated by your baby after a couple of breaths.

So, nitrous oxide does seem to offer a low-risk alternative to an epidural and may make birth a little more enjoyable. However, you still need to know what to expect during early labor, how to manage pain in multiple ways, and your labor team still needs to know how to best support you.

Taking a childbirth class, even if you're considering nitrous oxide, would be a good way to round out your pain management plan... just sayin'.

Klomp T, van Poppel M, Jones L, Lazet J, Di Nisio M, Lagro-Janssen ALM. Inhaled analgesia for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD009351. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009351.pub2