Laughing Gas During Labor
When planning for the birth of her fifth child, Ashley Henderson knew that she didn’t want to have another epidural, but there weren’t a lot of other options.

Ana Cozma LD RN at Texas Health Fort Worth“With my first three I had epidurals, and the fourth was a natural water birth,” Ashley Henderson said. “I wanted another water birth, but it wasn’t an option for this delivery. I also knew I didn’t want to have another epidural, but I was still looking for something to help with the pain.”

Midway through her labor she started considering another epidural when her nurses offered her nitrous oxide, an option for moms delivering at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. The gas is odorless and colorless, a 50/50 mix of nitrous and oxygen that can be administered by the mother. Laboring mothers control when to inhale the gas as needed during contractions, so they control how much or little effect they would like. Unlike an anesthetic like an epidural that numbs pain completely, nitrous oxide helps to relax the body and mind, decreasing pain perception.

“It definitely helped to take the edge off,” Henderson said. “It helped ease the contractions – I described it to my mom by saying that every time I breathed it in it was like I was enjoying a nice, relaxing glass of wine. It also wore off quickly, which is very different than an epidural.”

Ashley Henderson with newbornNitrous oxide is also a popular choice for laboring moms in other developed countries including Canada, Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 61 percent of all laboring women used an epidural for pain relief, a number that Laurie Jones, M.S., RNC-OB, nurse manager of labor and delivery at the hospital, says might change as more birthing options like water birth and nitrous oxide are offered to moms.

“We are always looking to improve the birth experience, and we know that many moms are considering a back-to-basics approach to their birth plans,” Jones said. “We have continually looked for ways to give moms more of a natural birth experience, but with the peace of mind that they have all the advancements of modern medicine in case something unexpected happens. Adding nitrous to our pain relief options for moms was a natural choice, and we have had an overwhelmingly positive response from our moms.”

“It was a great experience all around, I would definitely recommend it to other moms who are looking for pain management alternatives,” said Henderson, who is now home enjoying time with her newest addition, a healthy baby boy.

Learn more about pain management options and whether your hospital offers nitrous oxide during labor.