Nitrous Oxide

Should you consider nitrous oxide for labor?
Maybe you’ve used it at the dentist for a painful procedure.  Maybe you’ve used it at a concert parking lot. Or maybe you’ve never even heard of it!  Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” is odorless and tasteless. It has been used to reduce awareness of pain during labor in Europe since the 1930s and is currently used by 60-70% of laboring women in countries across the globe including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Sweden. This fast acting, quickly dissipating drug is safe and effective at alleviating the intensity of pain and anxiety during labor.  Used primarily in this country for dental procedures, it is now being adopted by hospitals and birthing centers for use by laboring women.

Evidence of nitrous oxide’s safety and convenience is abundant because of its widespread and continuous use over decades. “One of the great things about nitrous is that it is self-administered.  The woman is in control of how much and how often she inhales the drug.  She uses the gas whenever she finds her contractions warrant it,” explains midwife Whitney Hall.  “Also, because it is so short acting, it has a long track record of being safe for babies.”  

Nitrous oxide administration is noninvasive and, while it doesn’t eliminate pain, it does take the edge off without the serious risks and side effects associated with narcotics or epidurals. The incidence of neonatal resuscitation is not increased, and newborn alertness during the important early period of maternal-infant bonding and early breastfeeding are unaffected.  It also has no effect on the progress of the labor or the incidence of vaginal delivery. In fact, its use has been shown to lower cesarean section rates by 20%. 


Hudson Valley Midwifery is proud to be affiliated with HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley - one of the first hospitals in New York State to offer nitrous oxide for labor. It is another example of how our health care community is committed to providing options in childbirth. HealthAlliance offers 24/7 midwifery care, childbirth and breastfeeding education, a labor and birthing tub and pending Baby Friendly Certification.