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Pain Relief During Labor: Nitrous Oxide Vs. Other Pain Relief Options

Nitrous-oxide-option-waukesha-300x200-1As you consider your pain relief options for labor and delivery, have you compared your options side-by-side to see the differences?

At Moreland OB-GYN, our experienced obstetricians want to make sure you feel informed of your options so you can make the best pain-relief choice for your delivery.

Our newest labor and delivery pain relief option, the use of nitrous oxide, has spurred a number of questions. Keep reading to learn more, and to compare pain relief options to find the right fit for you!

Laughing Gas During Labor?

We know what you might be thinking -- “laughing gas, during labor?” We understand, and here are some more questions we often here:

  • Does laughing gas make you laugh? No.
  • Is laughing gas safe? Yes, very safe.
  • What are the side effects of laughing gas? Very minimal, often just mild nausea.

The truth is, laughing gas (or nitrous oxide) has a bad reputation, mostly associated with YouTube videos of individuals after dental appointments. But the nitrous oxide that obstetricians use during labor and delivery is much less concentrated than the type of gas used in dental offices. As a result, there are very minimal side effects from nitrous oxide and they wear off in as little as 10-15 minutes.

Learn more about the side effects of nitrous oxide now.

How Does Nitrous Oxide Help With Pain?

Nitrous oxide is an effective pain relief option for many women during labor and delivery because it helps to promote relaxation while reducing both pain and anxiety. Some women choose to use it in early labor to relieve pain and anxiety, then choose an alternative option, like an epidural, during active labor, and some women use it throughout their delivery.

Can you still feel pain with laughing gas?

Pregnancy-delivery-pain-relief-options-1It’s really up to you to control your own pain relief with nitrous oxide. It doesn’t eliminate all pain and sensation, but some women find it very effective to help ease anxiety and promote relaxation.

By placing the mask on your face, you can inhale nitrous oxide to feel the pain-relieving effects. Once you remove the mask, the effects begin to wear off almost immediately.

  • Nitrous oxide is short-acting
  • It is often used as a transitional medicine, to ease anxiety and pain during cervical checks or before a patient decides they’d like an epidural
  • Nitrous oxide can be effective when your labor has progressed too far for other interventions, like an epidural

A Doctor’s Own Experience with Nitrous Oxide

Vector symbol of N2O Nitrous oxide or laughing gas molecule consisting of nitrogen and oxygen atoms and moleculesStephanie Voice, D.O., a physician at Moreland OB-GYN, successfully used nitrous oxide during the labor and delivery of her first child out-of-state. Once she reached 5cm dilation, she wanted a pain relief option that would allow her to maintain control and the ability to move around.

“As a patient, I wanted to maintain mobility, and the ability to re-position for as long as possible,” stated Dr. Voice. “I could breathe in the mask when I felt a contraction coming on and it provided pain relief and a feeling of relaxation.”

Dr. Voice is an advocate of using nitrous oxide to help transition to other pain relief options as well, like an epidural.

“During my labor, I successfully used nitrous oxide until a certain point when I knew I wanted an epidural,” she stated. “The transition was seamless and there were no side effects from the nitrous oxide. I would recommend it to all of my patients who are good candidates.”

Nitrous Oxide vs. Other Pain Relief Options

There are many effective pain relief options for women in labor. A combination of your personal preferences and your doctor’s recommendation can help you determine the best labor pain relief option for you. Review the chart below to learn more about what services are available to you and the pros and cons of each.

Learn more about pain relief during labor.

We encourage you to learn more about nitrous oxide with our free resources or request an appointment with a Moreland OB-GYN doctor to talk more about the right pain relief options for your delivery.

At Moreland OB-GYN, we specialize in women’s health care and prioritizing the needs of our patients. We hope you’ll connect with us to answer your questions and we hope you’ll turn to our experts as a trusted source for information.

Learn more about the doctors at Moreland OB-GYN who offer Nitrous Oxide treatment in Waukesha, Oconomowoc, Lake Country, Milwaukee, and the surrounding areas.

Method Delivery Mechanism Pros Cons
Comfort Measures Visualization, Hypnosis, Relaxation
  • No intervention required
  • Can be used at any time
  • Mom is conscious and alert
  • Not always effective
Analgesics Injection into muscle or vein
  • Relieves pain without loss of sensation
  • Can cause drowsiness and nausea
  • Can slow babies breathing
  • Can make babies feel sleepy
Nitrous Oxide Inhale through mask
  • Can be used at any time
  • Patient controlled
  • Can get up and move around
  • Mom is conscious and alert
  • Can cause nausea
  • Not full pain relief
Anesthesia Epidural Lower back injection; effective for many C-sections
  • Non-sedating
  • Easing pain
  • Small, additional doses can be administered
  • Mom is conscious and alert
  • Not available at all times
  • Mom may lose muscle control
  • Inability to get up or move around
  • Can slow labor
  • Can cause postpartum headaches and injection site pain
Anesthesia Local or Pudendal Injection near vagina
  • Affects a small area (good for lacerations)
  • Rarely effects baby
  • Wear off quickly
  • Does not help reduce pain with contractions
Anesthesia Spinal Block Injection into spinal fluid; commonly used in C-Sections
  • Numbs lower body
  • Complete pain relief
  • Mom is conscious and alert
  • Can lower Mom’s blood pressure
  • Postpartum headaches are common
Tranquilizers or Sedatives Injection into muscle or vein
  • No loss of sensation
  • Promotes relaxation
  • May cause drowsiness
General Anesthesia Face mask or injection through IV
  • Fast acting
  • Complete pain relief
  • Reserved for difficult deliveries
  • Mom is unconscious
  • Potential risks if Mom has family history of problems with anesthesia


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