What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide that is used for labor pain is a mixture of 50% nitrous gas and 50% oxygen. It is inhaled through a mask. Nitrous Oxide is used widely in dental offices, where most people know of it as “laughing gas.”

How does nitrous oxide work?

You hold your own mask and begin to inhale the gas mixture about 30 seconds before a contraction begins. Starting to inhale before a contraction begins helps the gas to reach its peak effect about the same time the contraction reaches its peak.

Does nitrous oxide have any side effects?

Some women have reported nausea after prolonged use; medication to help ease the nausea is available if that happens. It can also cause some unsteadiness when up walking or out of the bed.

Are there any effects on the baby?

There are no known effects on the baby. Nitrous oxide is the only pain relief method used for labor that is cleared from the body through your lungs, so as soon as you pull the mask away, the nitrous effect is gone within a breath or two.

Who administers nitrous oxide?

YOU DO! Nitrous oxide is self-administered by the laboring woman. You breathe it in as you feel the need. Once you decide you want to use it, your provider will order it and a member of the health care team will come to your room, set it up, and review how to use it.

Do I have to choose between nitrous oxide or an epidural?

No. Some women may use nitrous prior to having an epidural placed. Though they would not be used together (the epidural and nitrous), it is perfectly fine to use nitrous first, and then move on to a different type of pain relief of your choosing.

Nitrous cannot be used if:

  • You cannot hold your own facemask.
  • You have received a dose of narcotic in the past 2 hours.
  • You have pernicious anemia or a B12 deficiency.
  • You have one of a very few other rare medical conditions, which a member of the health care team will assess when they speak with you.