Nitrous Oxide

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Nitrous oxide is commonly thought of as a medication used by dentists to help calm patients. Now it’s available to women in labor.

Nitrous oxide actually was common for labor in the 1800s before alternative pain medications and epidurals became available, said C. Reed Nett, M.D., OB/GYN with Advocates for Women’s Health, a part of Norton Women’s Care.

“The gas is safe to use and relatively simple to use, offering pain relief and decreased anxiety, among other benefits,” she said.

Nitrous oxide can reduce pain but does not cause sedation. Nitrous oxide is breathed in through a mask. The patient must be able to hold the mask herself and acknowledge the nurse to provide consent. The mask delivers the gas and captures her exhale.

Are There Nitrous Oxide Side Effects?

Nitrous oxide side effects can include dizziness, nausea and drowsiness, but that’s only while it’s being used. There are no long-term side effects for the mother, baby or staff. Women opting to use nitrous oxide are still able to move about, but may be unsteady on their feet.

A woman in labor choosing nitrous oxide has a nurse focused on her throughout labor and delivery

“Other countries have been using nitrous oxide as an option for expectant mothers for more than 75 years with no ill effects,” Dr. Nett said.

What If Nitrous Oxide Isn’t Taking Care of the Pain?

Epidural and other pain relievers can be given even if the patient has been using nitrous oxide.

“If a patient uses nitrous oxide and then decides she wants an epidural, we can fulfill her request. It is about providing her with options,” Dr. Nett said.

What to Expect from Norton Women’s Care

More mothers in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose to deliver their babies at Norton Hospital or Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital than with any other hospital system in the area.

We deliver more than 8,000 babies a year. We’re close to you with more than 90 providers at more than 25 locations around Louisville and Southern Indiana. Choosing Norton Women’s Care gives you many options for how delivery day could go — all with the confidence of knowing that our obstetrics and pediatric specialists are there to help. With Norton Women’s Care you’ll find:

  • The birth experience you want. You can choose natural childbirth, a midwife, labor tub, nitrous oxide and other birthing options. We’ll recommend a C-section (cesarean section) or induced labor only if it’s medically necessary.
  • Preparation. Our specialists offer the support you need, including free Lamaze and other childbirth classesnew parent classesbreastfeeding supportchild safety classes and more.
  • Confidence and quality in care. Norton Women’s Care has been recognized as High Performing — the highest rating available — for maternity care with fewer complications and C-sections, plus breastfeeding support and other benefits.
  • The highest level (Level IV) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Louisville and Southern Indiana at Norton Children’s Hospital, and a sophisticated Level III NICU at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
  • Around-the-clock OB/GYN care at Norton Hospital and Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital emergency departments.
  • Board-certified maternal-fetal medicine specialists who can help guide you through a high-risk pregnancy, from preexisting diabetes to a fetal echocardiogram to diagnose a congenital heart defect before a baby is born.
  • Convenient access to your medical record. Communicate with your health care provider, get lab results, renew prescriptions and more through your free MyNortonChart account.

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