Nitrous oxide pregnancy

Image of a pregnant woman using nitrous oxide during her laborAs your due date approaches, you will want to become familiar with the natural and medical intervention options for pain relief. One option for pain relief during labor is nitrous oxide. As with many medical interventions, it does have some risks, but overall it is considered safe to use during labor.

In high concentrations, nitrous oxide is a weak anesthetic. In low doses, however, it is an anxiolytic (a drug used for anxiety relief) and an analgesic (a drug used for pain relief).

According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), “Research has supported the reasonable efficacy, safety, and unique and beneficial qualities of N2O as an analgesic for labor and its use as a widely accepted component of quality maternity care” (2011).

In fact, several countries with high standards for health care, such as Canada, Sweden, Australia, Finland, and the United Kingdom, use a blend of 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide to treat pain during labor.

Although nitrous oxide was historically used in the United States for pain during labor, it was never used to the same extent as in other countries. In the United States, the most common pharmacological forms of pain analgesia for labor have been narcotics and local anesthetics through an epidural.

Nonetheless, in recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the benefits of using nitrous oxide for pain during labor.

Benefits of Nitrous Oxide During Labor

There are many advantages of using nitrous oxide for labor analgesia:

  • 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” (Rooks, 2011).
  • By not disrupting the release of oxytocin, nitrous oxide does not affect infant alertness during the early bonding period between a mother and her newborn.
  • It does not increase the need for neonatal resuscitation.
  • In the doses given during labor, nitrous oxide is not a strong analgesic. Women who use nitrous oxide during labor may still have an awareness of labor pain. However, many women find it helps them relax and decreases their perception of labor pain.
  • Because it is self-administered, not only can a woman decide how much to use, but she can also decide if she wants to stop using it and try another method of pain relief instead. Nitrous oxide can be easily discontinued, and its effects disappear within five minutes after cessation.

Risks of Nitrous Oxide During Labor

While there are many benefits of using nitrous oxide during labor, there are some risks to be aware of. For example, side effects may include sedation, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. There is also concern that the repeated use of nitrous oxide by health workers such as nurses and midwives may pose reproductive risks.

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