Natural childbirth with nitrous oxide when contractions are at their worst

Nitrous oxide helped her endure the pain better, and relax and rest between contractions.

Intent on another natural childbirth, Tina Zeller had a lot to look forward to with the birth of her second child. She and her husband, Drew, couldn’t wait for their new baby boy to join an older sister.

Tina delivered her first child in June 2016 at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital under the care of C. Reed Nett, M.D., OB/GYN with Advocates for Women’s Health, a Part of Norton Women’s Care.

Natural childbirth options at Norton Healthcare hospitals

Birth ball: Similar to a yoga ball, it allows mom to labor in a sitting position and move in a way that can stimulate contractions.

Peanut ball: Used like a birthing ball but made from two balls connected at the middle.

Hydrotherapy: Spending time in a garden tub or warm shower can help relax muscles during labor.

Birthing bar: An attachment for most labor beds that can help mom get in a squatting position, which can promote downward movement of the baby.

Doula: A trained assistant who supports mom and family during childbirth. The patient brings a doula as a guest during the delivery.

She had a natural delivery without the assistance of medications or an epidural (regional anesthesia). It was a great experience, and she was excited to plan for another natural delivery with her second child. This time, she had more options.

Researching natural childbirth options

“I learned about the use of nitrous oxide and hydrotherapy through the Birthing Natural Louisville Facebook page,” Tina said. “Several women shared their experiences, and I was interested in learning more. During a visit with Dr. Nett, we discussed the option and she was able to answer my questions.”

The use of nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) in the delivery room dates back to the 1800s before local anesthetics were available. While it fell out of favor in the United States, other countries have continued to use it.

“Nitrous oxide is a gas that the patient controls during and after her labor,” Dr. Nett said. “The patient has to be able to hold the mask while inhaling and exhaling into the mask.” If the patient becomes too relaxed and drops the mask, she stops getting the gas.

Despite still feeling pain, Tina said nitrous oxide helped her endure the pain better, and relax and rest between contractions.

The effects of nitrous oxide last only for a few minutes. A nurse or doctor will coach the woman and her support team to take the nitrous oxide along with the peak of each contraction.

“Mom and her support team can watch the fetal monitor,” Dr. Nett said. “When a contraction is approaching, mom can start inhaling and exhaling the odorless gas. The goal would be for mom to feel the effects at the same time as the contraction peaks.”

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Birth experience is backed by a specialist in mother and baby care

Nitrous oxide has no effects on the baby and the mother can still use other pain control measures, such as an epidural.

Tina’s experience using nitrous oxide wasn’t without a little humor. She confessed that she asked her support team (husband, doula and nurse) if they were as “happy as she was at this moment.” She also recalls asking if she was having a unicorn baby.

“I love unicorns and the thought made me laugh,” she said. “It also made everyone in the room laugh. They knew the nitrous was working!”

Whether a woman chooses a natural or medically assisted delivery, the physicians and staff are always prepared for bumps in the road.

“Our job is safety, and mom’s job is experience,” Dr. Nett said. “So, a patient can come to our hospital and decide ‘What is my experience and how do I envision labor?’ We’ll take care of safety, and we’ll help her with the rest.”

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