Starting this August, Saint Joseph Hospital, Colorado's top baby hospital for more than three decades, will offer new moms nitrous oxide as an option for pain relief during labor.
Nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas,’ is a colorless, odorless gas that is used to provide pain relief. It has been used for years as a labor pain management option in other countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia.
Below are some common questions and answers for women who may be considering nitrous oxide during labor:
- How does nitrous oxide work to manage pain during labor?
Nitrous oxide that is used for labor pains is a 50% mixture with oxygen delivered from a small machine at your bedside. You will breathe in the mixture through a mask. You hold your own mask, so you will decide when to use it and how much gas you need. ONLY YOU MAY HOLD THE MASK! No OB provider, nurse or support person may help you hold it. You will start to breathe in the gas mixture about 30 seconds before a contraction begins. This will help the gas work best about the same time the contraction reaches its peak. Nitrous oxide does not affect the length of labor or type of birth.
- How will I feel when I am using nitrous oxide?
Nitrous oxide seems to make you care less about your pain. Some women say ‘it takes the edge off’ of their pain. It can also lower your anxiety, help you cope, and feel less tense. Some of the common side effects are:
Because of these side effects, while using the gas, you will need help to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, and you will not be able to use the tub. The side effects go away quickly when you stop breathing the gas.
- Can I be out of bed and use nitrous oxide?
Yes. As long as you are steady on your feet, and have a support person present, you may be up and about in your room. You can stand at the bedside or use a birthing ball. You will need to stay where the equipment can remain plugged into the wall. If you are unsteady on your feet, your nurse may ask that you stay in bed or a chair while using nitrous oxide.
- Can I use other pain relief options at the same time as nitrous oxide?
Options such as the hydrotherapy tub, IV narcotics and epidural analgesia can only be started 15 minutes after stopping nitrous oxide use.
- Will nitrous oxide affect my baby?
Nitrous oxide crosses the placenta, and the baby gets about 80% of the dose you receive within 15 minutes of use. There is no known effect on fetal heart rate, and APGAR scores. If used right before birth, any effects on the newborn will last less than three minutes after delivery.
To learn more about having a baby at Saint Joseph Hospital, visit the Center for Women & Infants.