• What is Nitrous Oxide

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          Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) is becoming more and common as a labor coping mechanism.  This strategy has been used for many years in places like England, the Netherlands, and more with great success. It is just catching on here in the US. Locally, we have quite a few hospitals that are now offering it as a “natural” labor comfort measure. There are risks and benefits, as there are with anything; however, it seems to be a relatively safe option. Boulder Community Hospital, UCHealth (Longmont), a few birth centers and more are starting to carry it. See if it’s a good option for you.

          Nitrous Oxide is delivered via mask and is a self- delivery mechanism. The mom places the mask over her face with contractions, taking the edge off while not altering her hormones or her body. Epidurals are the most common form of pain control during labor; however, there are many more risks to those, as well as altering the hormone cascade that occurs during labor.

      “According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), “Research has supported the reasonable efficacy, safety, and unique and beneficial qualities of N2O as an analgesic for labor and its use as a widely accepted component of quality maternity care” (2011).” (APA)

    According to the research N2O in high concentrations is an anesthetic, while lower concentrations act like anxiolytic (a drug used for anxiety). During labor it is used at the lower concentration (50% N2o and 50% Oxygen) and allows the edge to be taken off while still allowing mom to be present and not having the same negative effects we see with epidural use.

    Some of the benefits include:

    • According to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, “Nitrous oxide labor analgesia is safe for the mother, fetus, and neonate and can be made safe for caregivers. It is simple to administer, does not interfere with the release and function of endogenous oxytocin, and has no adverse effects on the normal physiology and progress of labor” (Rooks, 2011).
    • By not disrupting the release of oxytocin, nitrous oxide does not affect infant alertness during the early bonding period between a mother and her newborn.
    • It does not affect breastfeeding.
    • It does not increase the need for neonatal resuscitation.
    • In the doses given during labor, nitrous oxide is not a strong analgesic. Women who use nitrous oxide during labor may still have an awareness of labor pain. However, many women find it helps them relax and decreases their perception of labor pain.
    • Because it is self-administered, not only can a woman decide how much to use, but she can also decide if she wants to stop using it and try another method of pain relief instead. Nitrous oxide can be easily discontinued, and its effects disappear within five minutes after cessation.

    The risks include:

    • Sedation
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea/Vomiting
    • Concern that repeated use my cause reproductive issues for medical staff
    • Certain animal studies have shown decreased fertility due to exposure to N2O; however this was in the 100% concentration, not the 50% used in labor and birth

    Nitrous Oxide could be a great way to handle the pains of labor and birth. Ask your health provider and place of birth if it is available. Like with everything involving birth- do your research, know your options and make INFORMED DECISIONS.

    Come to our next Birth Boot Camp to learn more about all your options around pregnancy, labor/birth, postpartum, newborn care, and breastfeeding!

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