More Hospitals Offering Nitrous Oxide To Make Women Laugh In Labor


By Devan Filchak

Pain management that most people associate with the dentist office is now being offered to expecting mothers at more hospitals across the United States.

Patients in the Birthing Center at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital in Indiana can use nitrous oxide, commonly known as "laughing gas," during labor and for procedures that may be needed after giving birth. The hospital began offering the option on Jan. 1.

For mothers who want a natural birth plan, which often explicitly forbids the use of pain-reducing drugs, nitrous oxide might be the perfect solution when the pain becomes too much, said Dylan Kardatzke, a registered nurse and practice facilitator at St. Vincent Anderson.

“It can help them keep that birth plan of not wanting the epidural and not wanting the narcotics but a lot of times they will get to 8 to 9 centimeters dilated and need something to take the edge off,” she said.

There are several advantages to using nitrous oxide during labor, including the fact that it is self-administered — women simply hold a mask up to their faces and remove it when they choose — and that it dissipates quickly, thus minimizing side effects including dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

St. Vincent Anderson decided to add nitrous oxide to its options for pain management after a staff member learned about its use at a conference. Within six months, nitrous oxide was being offered.

While patients haven’t used it at the birthing center yet, Kardatzke said expecting mothers have inquired about the use of nitrous oxide so it shouldn’t be long.

The nitrous oxide used during labor is slightly different than what is used during dental procedures.

Patients don’t have to worry about taking too much nitrous oxide because if they get too sleepy, their hand will fall away from their face and they will be back to normal in no time, said Kardatzke.

Kardatzke said having the control of how much patients use should be comforting. Patients will also still have the “delivery feeling” while using nitrous oxide, rather than being completely out of it while using an epidural.

“They can feel the contractions and they can feel that delivery,” she said. “It doesn’t really take the pain away, but it makes them not care that the pain is there.”

Nitrous oxide can also be used while sitting up or in whatever position is comfortable for the patient.

While nitrous oxide does affect everyone a little differently, patients can switch to a different pain management option within minutes if the laughing gas doesn’t seem to be working, such as narcotic pain medication through an IV or an epidural.


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