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Labor pain is no laughing matter... or is it?

There's no denying it — labor and childbirth involve discomfort; and planning how to manage that discomfort is usually top of mind for women during their pregnancy especially as the birth nears. A pain management option that's been absent from the delivery room for several years is now making a successful comeback: nitrous oxide, sometimes called laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide is rising in popularity because it is less invasive; allows a woman to be in control of when it's used and takes the edge off of contractions to help you feel more relaxed. Here's the rundown of using laughing gas during labor and childbirth. 

What it is
Nitrous oxide is a safe, colorless, tasteless, non‐flammable gas. When used to help manage discomfort during labor, it is a fixed blend of 50 percent nitrous oxide and 50 percent oxygen.

How it makes you feel
Nitrous oxide can make you feel more relaxed during labor; it usually doesn't make you laugh. Additionally, it allows you to be aware of your labor contractions, yet still be able to move. You can be in different positions and still use nitrous oxide.  

How it works
Nitrous oxide is inhaled through a face mask. You control when the nitrous oxide is released and when released, a specific and safe amount is dispensed. It usually takes less than 60 seconds for the positive effects to be felt. Nitrous oxide can be used throughout labor; when pushing and even after birth if stitches are needed. Epidurals and IV pain medications are still an option even after trying nitrous oxide.

Possible side effects
With nitrous oxide there is potential for:

  • nausea or upset stomach
  • dizziness or headache
  • dysphoria or restlessness
  • immobility (you are limited by the length face mask tubing)
  • incomplete pain relief, it is different than the epidural

If you experience negative side effects the health care provider can stop the nitrous oxide, and continue to give you oxygen. The negative side effects should disappear in approximately 15 to 30 seconds.

How it affects newborns
Some nitrous oxide may pass into your blood stream and potentially pass through the placenta to baby; however, studies have not shown negative effects to babies whose mothers used nitrous oxide during labor. Also, nitrous oxide is considered safe for the breast feeding mother.

During your labor and birth experience you can use nitrous, labor epidurals or IV pain medication for pain relief. Additionally, you can still benefit from holistic practices like guided imagery, massage and aromatherapy. 

It's important to note that women with some medical conditions, or who are taking certain medications, may not be able to use nitrous oxide. As with any other elements of your birth plan, you should discuss using nitrous oxide directly with your health care provider.

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