New labor, delivery option: nitrous oxide for pain

WASHINGTON — For the longest time, an epidural was the only option for women who wished to control the pains of labor with intervention. But not anymore.

A few hospitals around the country are offering nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, as an alternative when it comes to pain management. Locally, MedStar Washington Hospital is one of them.

“Women are becoming more informed about their choices as far as pain management while they are in labor,” says Dr. Hassan Adeniji-Adele, director of obstetric anesthesiology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The hospital incorporates the use of laughing gas into its midwife program, giving expectant mothers another choice for delivery.

The nitrous oxide is a 50/50 mix of nitrous oxide gas and oxygen, and the patient administers the gas herself. Adeniji-Adele says the gas does not take away the pain of childbirth; it just helps to dull it.

“[The patient] kind of disassociates themselves from the pain, but the pain is still there,” he says.

However, the gas may cause nausea and dizziness in some women.


With laughing gas, women now have another option for pain management in the delivery room. (Thinkstock)

Loral Patchen, director of midwifery in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says women are learning more about alternative birthing options.

“They are very well-informed about their own healthcare and what it is they want in terms of their birth experience,” she says. “What this provides is an opportunity to try something to better help them cope and maintain full awareness of your environment.”

If a patient starts with the nitrous oxide but finds she wants an epidural, it can still be administered.

According to Adeniji-Adele, nitrous oxide has been used safely during labor and delivery in other countries for years, but not in the U.S.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is currently reviewing the practice and tells WTOP it does not yet have guidelines or recommendations on the use of nitrous oxide during labor.

Is this an option you would explore? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent shares her take on laughing gas in the delivery room.

Making labor a laughing matter
By Amanda Mushro

When I was pregnant, my doctor asked if I was considering a natural childbirth. Who was he kidding? The only thing I considered was if they made home epidural kits I could use before we made it to the hospital.

With a reported 60 percent of women opting for epidurals during labor, I’m hardly alone in my desire for a little help in the delivery room. But what if there were other options?

While labor is no laughing matter, some women are finding relief in laughing gas. Yes, good old-fashioned nitrous oxide from the dentist’s office is making its way into delivery rooms across the country.

While using laughing gas during labor isn’t new for moms-to-be, the practice is making a resurgence because of new technology and research, which suggest nitrous oxide is safe for moms and babies.

Nitrous oxide does not completely remove or numb the pain like an epidural does. However, it can take the edge off those excruciating contractions. With the laughing gas, the laboring mom can still walk around, change positions and control how much gas she takes in.

Using nitrous oxide could be a real option for women, such as myself, who say, “Give me every drug you have.”

It’s even an option for the “no drugs, please” counterpart mammas who don’t want something as invasive as a huge needle in the back.

For women whose birth plans have been thrown out the window on delivery day, laughing gas could be their saving grace. If their labor has progressed too quickly and they can’t receive an epidural, or worse, the epidural doesn’t work, laughing gas could be the one thing that gives these moms some relief until that sweet, goo-covered bundle of joy is placed in their arms.

One question: Is laughing gas only for the moms? Because there were definite times my husband could have used a few hits. I mean, there are some things you just can’t un-see in the labor room, right?

Amanda Mushro is a mommy of two who blogs at Questionable Choices in Parenting. Sometimes she thinks she is doing a great job as a mom, but then she does something that makes her question her own parenting abilities. She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids, and tries every day to laugh at life as a parent so they don’t commit her.

Her writing has been featured on Scary Mommy and Mamapedia. She is a regular contributor to Felicity Huffman’s site for women, What the Flicka?, Families in the Loop and The DC Ladies. She is also a cast member of the 2014 “Listen to your Mother Show” in Washington DC. Mushro has an essay featured in the anthology “Not Your Mother’s Book on Being a Mom,” which will be released April 2014.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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