My Experience with Nitrous Oxide During Labor

When I was pregnant with my son my sister in law told me about nitrous oxide and how it can be used as natural pain management during labor. At first I was a little skeptical because I never heard of it used for labor and I thought it was only used during dental procedures. I had already made up my mind that I was not interested in getting a epidural so I chose to explore this option further.

Coincidentally as I was making the switch from my OBGYN to a midwife group for my prenatal care, the hospital the midwife group delivered out of offered nitrous oxide as an option for pain management during labor. I learned during my research stage that it is simply a gas that is inhaled right before a contraction comes on and it offers almost immediate pain reduction in pain and relaxation benefits for a short period of time (typically under a minute) before it needs to be inhaled again. According to americanpregnancy.org, nitrous oxide, “in high concentrations is used as a weak anesthetic. In low doses, however it is an anxiolytic (a drug used for anxiety relief) and an analgesic (a drug used for pain relief).” It sounded like it would definitely be safe and helpful for me to use. According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), “Research has supported the reasonable efficacy, safety, and unique and beneficial qualities of N2O as an analgesic for labor and it use as a widely accepted component of quality maternity care.” To use it, the nurse or healthcare provider turns on the tank and the patient then needs to secure her own mask and breathe in the nitrous. I decided I was going to give it a try during my labor no matter what. 

My actual labor started out a couple of days before I gave birth and the contractions were pretty mild in the beginning. During this time since I was a low risk pregnancy and in good health, I was mostly laboring at home. Looking back in hindsight if I were laboring in a hospital at this time, nitrous would have been great to use since the contractions were so mild and far apart. It would have been just enough to take the edge off the pain. The day before I gave birth the contractions grew much more intense. By then I was in contact with my midwife and doula to keep them informed. My midwife recommended I wait it out as long as possible before making the drive out to the hospital since we didn’t live that close. (Of course always check with your own healthcare provider before deciding to stay at home to labor!)

As mentioned in my birth story after laboring for almost 36 hours at home, my husband and I drove to the hospital. Once we arrived, my midwife confirmed I was six centimeters dilated and 90 percent effaced which was great progress. It was 7 am and I thought I would be having the baby relatively quickly. Instead, it took another 14 hours before I actually gave birth! Most of the day was spent in my birth room in moderate to very severe labor  pain. The alternative options I thought I wanted (the birth ball, rebozo blanket, and the bathtub were actually not very helpful and the things that helped me the most were my peanut ball (affiliate link) and the nitrous oxide!

The only regret I have with the nitrous was I wish I would have asked for it earlier in the day while I was at the hospital. It took the nurses a long time to set it up and get me on it. I was already close to pushing by the time I used it which was very intense for me. The nitrous definitely took off the edge and made me feel less anxious, but it didn’t do a whole lot for the pain. I can’t speak for women earlier on in their labor though,  as it may be helpful and everyone is different!

Overall I would definitely recommend nitrous oxide for labor and delivery. It was easy to breathe in and as I mentioned before, it took the edge off the sharp pain for me towards the end. I won’t say it numbed the pain by any means but it was definitely helpful and its worth a try! I didn’t really have any negative side effects from it either and no harm to the baby. The only thing I experienced was lightheadedness but I feel like that is to be expected. At some point I will do a video on the pros and cons of using nitrous oxide during labor. Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!