If you have ever experienced “laughing gas” in the dentist’s office then you know how euphoric and relaxed it can make you feel. Did you also know that, years ago, this odorless, tasteless gas, nitrous oxide, was available in the United States as a relief option for labor pains? In fact, my own mother reports experiencing the gas 50 years ago while in labor with my brother. She found it easy to use and so effective she didn’t need or request any other method of relief for labor pains. Nevertheless, perhaps due to the popularity of the epidural, nitrous oxide (also know as nitrous, laughing gas, nitro, or NOS) as a labor analgesic eventually fell out of favor in the U.S. – until recently, that is.

Now, more and more birthing sites across the U.S. are offering this option to their patients, joining 65% of countries across the globe that have been providing “gas and air” in post – World War II Europe for years and with great results. The self-administered gas is 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide. It generates a relaxed state within which one experiences a diminished perception of labor pains. Nitrous is fast acting, achieving peak effect at 30 – 50 seconds after inhalation. The gas is often just enough to help a woman get through her labor or allow her to delay the use of the epidural, but it’s not for everyone. Some women prefer stronger alternatives for pain relief. Others do not tolerate the gas due to negative side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, or dizziness. Side effects are short-lived, however. Once the gas is discontinued, it leaves the system just as quickly as it entered.

Birth Plan: Preferences vs Demands

Nitrous oxide is safe for mom and baby. The mother holds the mask (or mouthpiece) herself and releases it when she feels the effects of the gas. This keeps her from getting too much at once. Higher concentrations of the gas may be used for dental work but the 50:50 concentration of nitrous and oxygen is perfect for labor pains. The gas does not interfere with the labor process and it can even be used while one is immersed in a labor tub!

Nitrous is used for more than just labor pains. It can also offer relief when an IUD is inserted or with other uncomfortable or anxiety-producing procedures.

If you think you want to try the gas in labor, contact your local Baby+Company or find out if it is available at your birth site. If so, let your provider know you are interested so s/he can review your health history and rule out any contraindications to using nitrous. When you are in labor, let your nurse know that you want to use the gas and s/he will show you how and when to apply the mask/mouth piece carefully and securely for optimal effect.

Quick, safe, and easy to use, there’s no wonder why more birth sites are offering this labor pains relief option to women. Women like having choices and providing nitrous oxide for labor is one smart way to fulfill that desire.