As you are getting closer to your due date, you might have a lot of questions wandering in your mind. And if this is your first baby, the biggest concern would be managing labor pain. Among all the different options for managing pain during labor, one such option is laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide. You might have come across the usage of nitrous oxide in a dentist clinic. But nitrous oxide is used not only when filling cavities, but also during labor and delivery. In this article, we will explore how nitrous oxide is administered during labor, the risks and benefits associated with it, and if it is a viable option for women in labor.
What Is Laughing Gas?
It is a non-flammable, odorless, and colorless gas that helps relieve anxiety and improve pain tolerance during labor. Nitrous oxide is different from an epidural in the sense that it doesn’t take away the pain or the feeling of contraction, but rather relieves anxiety and improves pain tolerance during labor (1).
Nitrous Oxide During Labor
The best part about nitrous oxide is it is self-administrative. It is generally used by blending 50% of nitrous oxide with 50% of oxygen. Pregnant women can inhale the gas by using a facemask that they hold in place. Nitrous oxide is considered as minimal sedation as the person remains responsive and in control of their airway and ventilation. Also, the cardiovascular system won’t be impaired in any way (2).
Nitrous oxide can be used during any stage of labor and childbirth, even when there is a need for manual extraction of the placenta or repair of a laceration after delivery.
How Commonly It Is Used During Labor?
Using nitrous oxide for labor was first recorded in Poland in 1881. Since then it has been extensively used during labor in Western countries and the UK once the delivery system came into place in the 1990s. Canada, Sweden, Australia, Finland, and the United Kingdom are among the several countries with advanced healthcare which use nitrous oxide as an analgesic (a drug used to relieve pain) during labor (3). Though it has been used in the US, with the increasing popularity of epidural the usage of nitrous oxide was soon abandoned (4).
Benefits Of Laughing Gas During Labor
Nitrous oxide works best when given in low doses. It is used both for anxiety relief and pain relief for women in labor. The following are the benefits of nitrous oxide during labor (5):
- It is safe for the mother and the baby before and after birth. It can be made safe for the caregivers as well.
- It does not interfere with the function of endogenous oxytocin and is easy to administer.
- It does not cause any adverse effects on labor.
- It doesn’t hamper the early bonding between the mother and the newborn as it doesn’t interfere with oxytocin.
- It helps women relax and reduce the sensation of labor pain.
- It does not affect breastfeeding in any way.
- Since it is self-administered, women have the power over deciding how much they want to use or if they want to try another option of pain relief in between labor.
- If the woman chooses to go for any other method of pain relief or simply wants to discontinue it, the effects of laughing gas will disappear within 5 minutes of cessation.
Risks Associated With Using Nitrous Oxide During Labor
There are several side effects to using nitrous oxide during labor such as dizziness, nausea, sedation, and vomiting (6). There is also concern over posing reproductive risks to doctors and nurses who have been repeatedly exposed to nitrous oxide. However, all of these risks can be significantly reduced by shortening the exposure time and frequency as well as using proper ventilation and equipment. Similarly, nitrous oxide should be administered in 50% concentration rather than 100% for best results.
Whether you go for an epidural, spinal block, or drug-free birth, it is entirely up to you. But if you are looking for something with fewer side effects than an epidural, laughing gas might be a good option for you. If you do choose to go with nitrous oxide, make sure to talk with your doctor first and check if you are a viable candidate and if it is available at your hospital.