Our goal is for all of the birthing families we support to feel clear about their options and preferences during pregnancy and labor. When it comes to pain management during the labor and birth process, there are lots of options, from positions to meditations to acupuncture to herbs to medications.
The options that are available to you will vary depending on your choice of birthing location. At Sweet Child O’ Mine, clients are preparing to birth without an epidural. However, we do offer the option of nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”) for pain relief. All of this is to say, your birth preferences and birth location can go hand in hand.
Exploring Your Options and Preferences
As you work with your care providers to discuss your preferences for labor and birth, including pain management, it can be helpful to apply the BRAIN strategy to support your decision-making process:
Intuition (checking in with body and heart)
Nothing (as in “What if I do nothing?”)
We recommend writing this acronym down on a note in your phone or at the front of the notebook you take to each appointment with your care provider. This will allow you to sort through all of the details as you work towards clarity and a decision. Additionally, if you are working with a doula, they support you in finding resources that explore the benefits and risks of interventions you may be considering.
Nitrous Oxide for Pain Management
While it is true that labor is typically described as an intense and full-body experience, we don’t want clients to suffer. Pain relief options– natural and medication– are available to help you cope and feel empowered in your birthing process. One option that we offer at Sweet Child O’ Mine is nitrous oxide, which we also refer to as “nitrous”.
Nitrous oxide use for labor pain is a mixture of 50% nitrous gas and 50% oxygen that is inhaled through a mask. You will hold the mask or mouthpiece with a firm seal over your mouth and nose; you will breathe in to release the flow of nitrous oxide. This means that you will be in control of the amount of nitrous that you receive by the depth and frequency of the breaths you take.
We recommend that you initiate the breath about 30 seconds before a contraction starts and take about three to four deep breaths at a time. This allows the gas to take effect and give the most relief at the peak of your contraction. Between contractions, you can put the mask or mouthpiece down and rest or move about as you need.
Nitrous helps you feel relaxed and is reported to decrease pain in labor by 50%. Most women say that nitrous oxide helps “take the edge off” of the contractions and allows them to cope with labor better. Additionally, nitrous oxide can decrease anxiety, which helps you feel less tense during contractions.
Some people who use nitrous do report feeling a bit drowsy, lightheaded, nauseated, or a little silly. However, the good news is that these side effects typically go away 3-4 minutes after you stop breathing the nitrous oxide. The nauseated feeling is a sign of using too much at one time, so you will quickly learn how to regulate it.
There are no known effects of nitrous use on the baby. This is the only medication pain relief method used for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs, so, again, as soon as you pull the mask away, the nitrous effect is gone within 3-4 minutes.
People with pernicious anemia, a B12 deficiency, or a very few other rare medical conditions cannot use nitrous during labor. You will also need to be able to hold your own mask or mouthpiece in order to receive nitrous pain relief.
Check out more pros, cons, and evidence from Evidence Based Birth here.
Sweet Child O’ Mine Is Here For You
Your team of midwives is here to support you in preparing for labor and birth. During prenatal visits, we will talk about your birth preferences and plan for pain management. If nitrous is a service that you are interested in, please discuss it with your midwife.
If you are currently building your birth team, we would be honored to be a part of your team; reach out and let us know how we can support you!