Nitrous Oxide

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.

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