Patients Find Nitrous Oxide Helps Them Cope With Labor Pain

October 03, 2018
Sarah and EliSarah Kellogg and her son Eli.

The decision whether or not to get an epidural to help with labor pain can be a difficult one for expectant mothers. Some women are very comfortable with the idea of the procedure, but others are wary of potential complications or simply want as few drugs in their system as possible. What many women don’t realize is that epidurals aren’t their only option when it comes to pain relief during labor. Nitrous oxide is a low-intervention form of pain relief that mothers can control themselves.

Nitrous oxide is a gas that, when combined with oxygen, can be safely inhaled by a woman using a mask that she can take on and off herself. It helps the body relax and temporarily lessens the pain of labor. Nitrous oxide has no impact on the baby and its effects are short-lived, allowing a mother complete control over her dosage.

“People like choices,” said Janet Oliver, RNC, who has coached many moms through labor using nitrous oxide at MMC’s Family Birth Center. “The nice part about nitrous oxide is that it is not stored in a mom’s body, so if she decides she wants to use an epidural later, she can still do that.”

Sarah Kellogg learned about nitrous oxide when she told her obstetrician that she was hoping not to use an epidural, if possible. “My doctor taught me some techniques about how to focus on my breathing using nitrous oxide, and that was really helpful,” Kellogg said. “Nitrous oxide did not take away all the pain of labor, but it made me feel like I could cope with it.”

Some women who use nitrous oxide experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting or dizziness. Oliver said all of those side effects are treatable in the delivery room. MMC, where patients have been using nitrous oxide during labor for more than two years, is the only hospital in Portland offering the option.

“People often think that you either get an epidural or you can’t have pain relief at all,” Oliver said. “This is another option women should know about that that is safe for them and their babies.”