5 Surprising Benefits of Laughing Gas For Labor

When it comes to options for pain relief during labor, women in the United States have the choice of medications, an epidural, or natural coping techniques. 

But there is one more option that we don't hear a lot about these days:

Laughing gas. 

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Image via Flickr/ genue.luben

Laughing gas was used for labor in the past — it was first introduced in the early 1900s as a simple way to make women more comfortable during labor without a lot of side effects. 

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If you're a fan of my favorite show, Call The Midwife, you may have seen the portable machine that was sometimes carted into to deliveries for women to use to self-administer the gas — nitrous oxide — through a breathing mask while they contracted. And although laughing gas doesn't actually block any pain sensations in the body, it provides a relaxing effect on the body that helps distract from the pain. It can make people feel like they are “floaty” or can induce giggles — hence the name. 

Unlike the laughing gas that many of us associate with the dentist office, laughing gas during labor isn't a continuous blast of the stuff — it's completely controlled by the laboring woman and is only used in short, temporary bursts when she breathes in the air. If she needs relief, she takes a breath. And that's all there is to it. 

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Nitrous oxide fell out of popularity after the epidural was introduced and hasn't really been used in the U.S., although it is still used in other countries and quite often in Canada. I mean, why laugh your way through labor if you can block the pain completely, right?

But laughing gas is making a comeback. Due to more demand for laughing gas during labor, the FDA approved new nitrous oxide systems for labor, and more hospitals across the country are including laughing gas in their list of available pain relief options for women. In fact, it may be a great option for labor because it does have a lot of great benefits:

  • Temporary. The chemical leaves the body very quickly after a woman stops breathing it in.
  • No apparent side effects to the baby. One cumulative study found that infants born to moms who used laughing gas had Apgar scores that were similar to other types of pain relief or natural birth. 
  • Leaves mom in control. Unlike an epidural, or even other pain medications, a woman still has complete control of her body with laughing gas, so she is able to push without dulled sensation or move and change positions as necessary. 
  • Patient-controlled. The woman using the laughing gas is the one who decides when and if she needs it, so it can be completely customized to her level of pain. 
  • Cheaper. Nitrous oxide is a lot cheaper — $100 vs. $1,000, according to one report

What do you think? Would you try laughing gas for labor? 

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5 Surprising Benefits of Laughing Gas For Labor

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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