Nitrous Oxide



What are the effects of nitrous oxide on labor pain?

How is nitrous oxide administered?

What are the advantages of nitrous oxide?

What are the drawbacks of nitrous oxide?




What are the effects of nitrous oxide on labor pain?

Nitrous oxide, commonly called "laughing gas", reduces pain. Studies suggest that it may be more effective than injected narcotics.

How is nitrous oxide administered?

Nitrous oxide is administered in combination with oxygen through a face mask or mouthpiece that you hold. The gas only flows when you inhale into the mask or mouthpiece.

What are the advantages of nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide:
  • provides enough labor pain relief for many women
  • may enable you to avoid, postpone, or limit narcotic or epidural pain medication, which have more serious adverse effects
  • has a short lag time between requesting the gas and obtaining relief
  • can be used at any time in labor right up to the birth
  • increases your sense of personal control, as you choose when you use it
  • does not appear to interfere with labor progress or ability to push
  • does not lower your blood oxygen level
  • does not appear to have adverse effects on the baby's condition at birth
  • can be discontinued more quickly than other pain medication, as its effects reverse rapidly when you stop inhaling it
  • does not require the presence of an anesthesiologist for its administration and monitoring.

What are the drawbacks of nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide:
  • is not available in many maternity units in the U.S.
  • is tricky to time correctly: the lag time to achieving maximum effect is almost a minute, which means if you start inhaling the gas when you feel the contraction, you may not get enough benefit; continuous use, though, can make you feel dizzy and light-headed and increases the risk of grogginess or losing consciousness
  • limits your ability to move about: the mouthpiece or mask is connected to a gas tank or other supply source
  • can cause drowsiness, hazy memory of labor, dizziness, pins and needles, or numbness
  • poses a small risk of losing consciousness: this is why it's important that you hold the mask or mouthpiece; if you lose consciousness, your hand falls away and the situation rapidly corrects itself
  • has the potential for increased problems with sedation and decreasing your blood oxygen level: if used in combination with injected narcotics
  • has unknown effects on the alertness of newborns and their ability to interact with their new environment: still, nitrous oxide dissipates rapidly and may not cause any problems.

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Childbirth Connection is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1918 as Maternity Center Association. Our mission is to improve the quality of maternity care through research, education, advocacy and policy. Childbirth Connection promotes safe, effective and satisfying evidence-based maternity care and is a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing families.
Most recent page update: 11/16/2012