What is nitrous oxide?
Nitrous oxide is a gas used to decrease pain sensations. It’s colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and is inhaled through a mask.
The use of nitrous oxide was fairly common in the United States, but fell out of favor as epidurals became more popular in the 1980s. It has been widely used in the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe and has only recently become more available in the United States.
What are the benefits?
- Takes the edge off labor pains and reduces anxiety for many women.
- Begins working right away (within 30-60 seconds) and wears off quickly without lingering side effects.
- Gives you control of how much and when you inhale need it.
- Allows you to get out of bed or in the tub (have someone with you in case of lightheadedness or drowsiness).
What are the drawbacks?
- Does not completely numb any part of your body like an epidural will.
- Causes nausea in some women.
- Not recommended for those with past gastric bypass surgery, severe vitamin B12 deficiency, collapsed lungs or those unable to hold the mask due to musculoskeletal disease.
Is it safe for my baby?
Yes, nitrous oxide has been used by laboring women for decades. Women clear the nitrous oxide from their bodies through their lungs in about five minutes. Nitrous oxide that passes through the placenta to the baby is also cleared by the mother’s lungs. Dental offices use nitrous oxide for pain control in a higher concentration than is used for labor and delivery.