Laughing Gas for Labor? Why Not?


Every woman goes through labor differently -- some want hardcore pain meds, others breathe through it naturally. I'm not a huge fan of the epidural because of the risks associated with it, but (barring a complication) every woman has a choice on how she wants to go through labor.

But what if there was another option, one that gave women the pain medicine they wanted but without the risks of an epidural? There is! Nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas, is making a comeback in labor and delivery rooms.

And believe it or not, I'm not immediately jumping to hate on it.

Okay, now that that collective gasp from some of my natural birthing readers is past, hear me out.

Remember that I've HAD two epidurals, one that worked (almost too well) and a second that kinked in my spine and failed to deliver any medication after a grueling 30 minutes for insertion. I'm not anti-epidural. I'm anti-denial of serious risk of them though. They shouldn't be taken lightly, though they too often are. 

For women who hit transition and are losing control and find it's "too late" for an epidural, why not a breath or two of nitrous to help them relax? For women who want pain medication but absolutely do not accept the risks of epidurals, why not a safer alternative?

Nitrous can be held on your mouth, allowing you to take tons of breaths until you're totally loopy ... or you can take one or two quick ones and just "come down" a little, without losing concentration, focus, or mental clarity. It also wears off VERY quickly -- no hours of a catheter because you can't walk or bruises on your spine (both my own experiences).

For those who prefer no drugs, obviously nothing changes, and that's good. After all, any med has some potential risks. But for women who would OTHERWISE choose a much more dangerous epidural, often one that pins them on their back, or for those who just want temporarily relief, why not?

If allowing nitrous oxide back in the US as a regular option becomes popular again, as it has been in other places (and a couple of US hospitals) for decades, could we LOWER the number of women who receive epidurals? Reduce complications from pain meds? Help increase initial breastfeeding rates because the baby wouldn't be groggy? Reduce pathological and painful breast engorgement from excessive fluids? Stop falsely labeling babies as not gaining enough weight because we don't account for the fluids?

People are going to get pain meds if they want them. That is a fact. But what if we allowed one that had less complications and didn't need an expensive anesthesiologist to administer? Women could choose their level of relief from "just taking the edge off" to "totally dopey." Laughing gas would wear off quickly enough so that mom could be totally and completely coherent again in a matter of minutes. Why wouldn't we want that?

Do you think allowing nitrous oxide could help reduce use of epidurals?


Image via Danny McL/Flickr

delivery, labor & delivery, labor, pain management


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coffe... coffeeyum

This works on the central nervous system and it could damage the nerves to the brain, like the synapses that are effected during traumatic emotional stresses.   Say you have a huge stress right before the birthing, and you get a bit too much gas, it's likely to send you into a seizure.  That can become ........''another'' stress right there.  Then you have to be weened off of the secondary stress from the seizure.  In my book it's a risk. 

Jessica Black Rodgers

I think this is a great idea. I'm a no-meds homebirthing mom, but I support widening the options for women when it comes to pain relief during delivery - and anything that reduces risks is a win in my book!

Kayla Still

i think it is a good choice for those whose epidural flat out did not work and want a as natural delivery as possible.

Amelia Dempster

It seems like a great idea, but I wish it hadn't been an opition for me. The idea of needles in my back is way worse than any amount of birthing pain, so an epidural automatically out for me. But I did cave and get the gas when the @#*$! doctor broke my water without permission and then made me lay down. Everthing was going smoothly until then and I was keeping comfortable by moving and staying in the shower. I wanted a 100% med free birth, and sadly do not remember the last few hours of my labour of the birth of my daughter because I was so out of from the gas.

winte... winterrose82

I think this is a great option to put in our birthing arsenal. Women should have many choices, and too often the only options are an epidural or no pain medicine at all. 

RanaA... RanaAurora

Interesting input, ladies! I'll admit I'm not well-versed in the affects it would have in labor, but found the idea intriguing! Keep it comin'!

Gina Crosley-Corcoran

This was actually a HUGE topic of discussion at last year's NIH VBAC conference, and almost every midwife in the room was ALL for it.  Apparently it's widely available to mothers in other countries, but our own doctors-in-charge decided that it wasn't worth their time anymore.  I think it's a good option for some women, and they should most definitely have it. I'm not convinced that it's risk-free, but no pain medication is, and yet women are still offered those other things.  It seems like a good compromise for moms who don't want to incur the risks of the epidural, and just need a little something to get through. If I were birthing in a hospital, I can't say I wouldn't consider using it.  However, if it feels anything like that Stadol they gave me - NO THANKS!  That stuff was horrible.

Joy Krell Hopkins

It is a valid option for women who want as natural a birth as possible without reaching out for the most popular drug of choice, the epidural. It doesn't take away the pain and you still feel everything. It just takes the edge off of how you're feeling and coping. It is a way safer option than the epidural, that is for certain. And because it wears off so quickly it would most likely take thousands of puffs of this air to affect baby (but don't quote me on that). Everything has risks and this definitely seems like the lesser of all evils.

clair... claireandboys

British mama here, where nitrous oxide or as it's called here "gas and air" is routinely used. I had it with both my labours, at the start with my first (I got an epi later) and all through with #2. it makes you light headed if you have too much but passes very quickly and I never felt out of control. I was up and about right away with my second birth and my newborn was alert and fed well. I was shocked more to find out the US didn't offer it.

Randi02 Randi02

Canadian mama here, and it's widely used as well. I haven't used it but have friends that said it helped them through those times they felt they couldn't go on anymore.

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