Nitrous oxide is an inhaled general anesthetic commonly known as "laughing gas." When used in labor, it is most frequently administered in equal combination with oxygen. Hospitals generally have equipment that allows manual control over the concentration of nitrous oxide. Portable equipment allows it to be used during home or birth center births in the standard 50% mix.
The potency of the pain relief will be affected by the concentration of nitrous oxide. Women who use nitrous oxide for labor report better satisfaction with pain relief than women who use other systemic agents. This may be due in part to the self-administration of nitrous oxide, which allows the mother to receive pain relief when she wants.
Nitrous oxide wears off quickly, so does not interfere with other comfort measures you may wish to try. Because it wears off so quickly, nitrous oxide appears to be safe for both mother and baby. It can be used in a birth center or at a home birth.
Risks of using Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide is not available in all hospitals. Be sure to inquire about its use before planning to try this type of medication.
There is the possibility of passing out while using nitrous oxide, however this risk is close to zero when the drug is self-administered. Self-administration is done by holding the mask to your face, the drowsiness caused by the drug prevents you from maintaining the mask over your mouth and nose and so the administration of nitrous oxide ends.
It can be difficult to time the use of nitrous oxide with your contractions.
Nitrous oxide makes you feel drowsy and may may cause nausea or vomiting.
Nitrous oxide does not provide complete pain relief.