A Labor of Laughs: What Is Laughing Gas (aka Nitrous Oxide)?

dr. susan goltz
By Susan Goltz, MD, FACOG St. Luke's Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates, Lester River Medical Clinic
About the Author:
My OB patient care philosophy is as follows: My goal in caring for OB patients is to try to match the experience that they want with the experience that they get—if not, even better! I have learned that patients have very different expectations and goals for their birth experience. I try to help them have the experience that they want. If the plan changes because of the unpredictable nature of the birth process, I want to be able to explain the situation and guide them along a new path.

I have wonderful news, moms-to-be. Nitrous Oxide therapy is swiftly becoming a choice at birthing centers across the country, including St. Luke’s. Meaning, more options for you—and baby—when it comes to pain relief during labor.

With every new option comes new questions, so here’s a little cheat sheet to nitrous.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous Oxide (commonly referred to as “laughing gas” or “N20”) is a gas you administer yourself during any part of labor to help cope with pain, anxiety or apprehension. N20 is composed of 50% nitrous gas and 50% oxygen.

How do you use it during labor?

  • You’re given a mask that you will hold over your face
  • You breathe into the mask for 30 to 60 seconds prior to contraction
  • You continue to breathe in the gas throughout contraction

You’ll have complete control of the mask throughout the entire labor.

What does laughing gas feel like?

It technically does not block labor pains. What it does is cause a sense of what we call “pleasant well being” that helps women relax during labor, which in doing so can help with the pains of labor.

Will laughing gas affect my baby?

No. The Nitrous Oxide is an extremely fast-acting agent, and completely clears out of your system in seconds, with no effect on your baby. It is basically an ideal therapy.

Why do some mothers prefer it over an epidural?

Nitrous Oxide is a great option for us to offer our patients. It’s a less-invasive option than an epidural, and is very easy to administer.

Where can I learn more about Nitrous Oxide?
National Public Radio wrote an informative piece about Nitrous Oxide and labor that you can read here.

Remember, Nitrous Oxide is just one option. My priority is to provide you with the pregnancy and birthing experience you want, so whether it’s an epidural or a natural birth, it’s your call.

To make an appointment with Dr. Susan Goltz