Christina Spencer, D.O.
Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-GYN)
When you think of laughing gas, the first image that comes to mind likely is someone hysterically laughing. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, has been making a comeback as a pain-relief option for women during childbirth. While the option is safe for most women, many rumors surround its use.
Here are the answers to 5 common questions about nitrous oxide as a pain relief option for labor:
1. Why are more women turning to laughing gas for managing childbirth pain?
Women want more options for managing pain during labor and delivery. Nitrous oxide is self-administered, so you feel more control over pain relief.
Nitrous oxide does not limit mobility, slow labor or cause significant risk to the baby. It has a quick onset after it is inhaled and leaves the system quickly once its use is discontinued.
Nitrous oxide will not eliminate pain, but it can dull pain and lessen anxiety. It's a good option for women who are prone to anxiety or want the ability to move around during labor.
2. Does laughing gas make you laugh like crazy?
Contrary to its name, laughing gas does not make you laugh like crazy. The gas slows the nervous system, which makes you feel less inhibited. It also can create a sense of well-being or euphoria. This combination can make you feel gigglier than usually, but most don't laugh hysterically.
Nitrous oxide may make you feel groggy or nauseous, but those potential side effects usually go away within a few minutes.
3. What are some of the benefits of using laughing gas over other pain relief methods?
Laughing gas is the least expensive pain relief option available and has little effect on the baby. It can be used continuously, and it allows you to walk during labor.
Laughing gas also is less invasive than an epidural. If you choose a different pain management option, nitrous oxide can be stopped at any time.
You can safely breastfeed after delivery even if you used laughing gas.
4. Who benefits from using laughing gas?
Laughing gas is a good option if you tend to feel anxious. If you have been diagnosed with anxiety, are nervous around needles, scared of being in hospitals or have a hard time relaxing and releasing tension, it may be for you.
It also is an option to consider if you wanted to avoid an epidural and narcotic pain medication, or it's too early or late for an epidural.
5. How is laughing gas administered?
You give yourself laughing gas by holding a small mask to your mouth to inhale the gas. It takes effect within a minute. Once the mask is removed, the effects of nitrous oxide quickly wear off. Some women prefer to use nitrous oxide during contractions, and others prefer to use it to help relax between contractions. Your health care team will teach you how to use it.
Nitrous oxide is a good option if you are looking for a noninvasive pain reliever that you can control. Knowing the available options will help you choose an effective pain relief method for labor and delivery.