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Laughing Gas: What is it and Can it Help Labour?

As your due date fast approaches, you may find yourself pondering how your birth may go. Pain management is such a vital part of your labour and childbirth. It is important to keep an open mind about how you will manage your pain in labour. There are so many options to choose from. You may start with non-medical pain interventions such as breathing, visualization, position changes, massage, or a TENS unit. You may also consider medical pain control such as analgesics, inhalation, or an epidural. Whatever you choose, know that you are in control. Research has shown that the more prepared and educated a person is for childbirth, the more control they have over their choices. So, let’s dive into one option that may be available to you: inhalational analgesia, otherwise known as nitrous oxide or laughing gas. 

What is Laughing Gas?

Laughing gas is Nitrous Oxide. A blend of 50% nitrogen and 50% oxygen. It is an odorless gas breathed through a mouthpiece or mask. You may also hear your healthcare professional call it Entonox. Nitrous oxide takes effect quickly and within a minute you may begin to feel more relaxed, comfortable, and sometimes euphoric (hence why it’s called “laughing gas”). 

According to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, “Nitrous oxide labor analgesia is safe for the mother, fetus, and neonate and can be made safe for caregivers. It is simple to administer, does not interfere with the release and function of endogenous oxytocin, and has no adverse effects on the normal physiology and progress of labor”.

How do you use laughing gas? Can it help?

You will be given a mouthpiece or mask to hold onto. This is only to be held by you (it cannot be held by your partner, midwife, or nurse). You determine how much or how little to breathe in. Hold the mask/mouthpiece tight to your mouth. The moment you feel a contraction start begin taking a couple of deep breaths and continue to do so through all subsequent contractions. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy take the mouthpiece away from your mouth until the next contraction. 

Each birth experience is unique. Each person’s perception of pain is also unique. Some women find that nitrous oxide doesn’t provide enough pain relief while other labouring women believe it takes the edge off their pain enough for them to get through each contraction. Just because you opt to give it a try doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind as your labour progresses.  

Benefits to Using 

  • You are in control of the mask and how much nitrous oxide is delivered
  • Safe for both mother and baby; is shown to have no effect on infant alertness 
  • Does not require any extra monitoring 
  • Fast-acting and side effects wear off quickly once you stop inhaling 
  • Can be used right up until delivery and may even be used post-delivery for any suturing of the perineum that may be necessary
  • Decreases women’s perception of labour pain while still allowing them the control to feel when to push through a contraction 
  • May be used in combination with other pain relief interventions

Risks Associated with Nitrous Oxide 

Know that nitrous oxide is generally considered safe for labour, but as with many medical interventions, there are some risks to be aware of:

  • Side effects may include drowsiness/fatigue, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting 
  • May experience temporary tingling in the face or hands
  • May dry out your mouth so keep some water close by to sip on 
  • Pain is not eliminated but dulled
  • Recommended use is for two to three hours

Being informed about your pain relief interventions and options is so important for your labour. If you attend a prenatal class, you will discuss each option more in-depth and can make informed decisions throughout your birth. If you are interested in learning more about pain relief methods for labour, contact your local Mama Coach for a customised prenatal class.

References:

Pain Relief Options: Labour and Birth

Nitrous Oxide Labor 

Entonox Gas and Air

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The Mama Coach is a global team of Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners.

Our mission is to guide families through every stage of their parenting journey by providing evidence-informed education infused with non-judgmental support, compassion, and empathy.

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