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Laugh Your Way thru Labor!

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 4 views

by Joyce Moxley Thomas, MHA, CPM, LM

When evaluating the various pain relief options that you have for labor, it's important to consider every option. One choice that many women do not realize is an option is Nitrous Oxide. Otherwise known as "laughing gas," this pain relief option may be familiar to some from the dentist's office. In Europe, it is also used at some hospitals for laboring women, and it's certainly an option worth looking into in the US.

How Is Nitrous Oxide Used During Labor?

Nitrous Oxide is inhaled through an inhaler, like a “wand” or a mask during your birthing time. It provides short term pain relief. It does not take the discomfort of birthing waves away completely, but tends to numb them. You hold the inhaler yourself near your nose at the onset of each birthing wave and you breathe in very deeply. Women report that the gas helps them feel a sense of well-being and they are better able to relax with the birthing waves. It only takes about 30 seconds to feel the effects from the gas, and it wears off as soon as you take the inhaler away. For the best effect, you need to start breathing it in as soon as you feel the birthing wave starting. This will ensure that the maximum effect of the gas is felt at the peak of the wave.

Advantages of Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide is a great choice for women who want to take the edge off of their birthing pressure sensations, but who do not want a larger intervention such as an epidural. The gas takes effect quickly and wears off quickly. After more than 60 years of use in Europe, it is not known to have any effect on the baby, although it does pass over the placenta while you are using it during labor. Nitrous Oxide allows women to feel in control of their birthing waves, since they monitor the use of the gas and the length of the use. They can place it on their own mouths and take it off as they need to, allowing them to know that they are in control of the medication.

Disadvantages of Nitrous Oxide

While some women find this to be a helpful tool during labor, others find that it causes them to feel light-headed and nauseous. Some women report that the gas makes them feel tired, while others report having a dry mouth. You may also have a tingling in the fingers while using the gas. The tingling is due to over-breathing and can be prevented with reminders from your midwife or doula.

Nitrous Oxide is a good option for many women who want minimal intervention during their birthing time.

It is important to check with your hospital or birthing center, however, to see if they administer Nitrous Oxide. Not all locations do, and you don't want to go into your birthing time assuming that you will have access to Nitrous Oxide/O2 that will not be available to you! After all, anesthesiologists and hospitals have to make as much money off your admission as possible – and an epidural is ‘way more expensive than a little nitrous oxide/oxygen inhaler! (It’s ‘way more dangerous, too!) Hmm.m.m.m…..

Have You Got “GAS?”

In the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, pain-relieving gas is often used to relieve labor discomfort. Entonox is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide (50-50) Known in the US as laughing gas, many Americans are familiar with it in their dentist office. It is designed to provide as good a discomfort relief as possible without causing undue sleepiness. The gas works quickly, but takes about 30 to 45 seconds to have an effect.

Throughout Europe, nitrous oxide has been used for pain relief during childbirth since the 1930s and was initially delivered at a concentration of 50% in air, producing an effective analgesic mixture. To gain maximum benefit you need to start breathing it as soon as you feel a birthing wave start. This means the maximum action is being achieved at the height of the contraction. Entonox can be used throughout both early labor until the birth of your baby. Entonox crosses the placenta but is not known to have any effect on your baby. The higher concentration of oxygen may help your baby with the transition to life outside your body.

Some mothers feel light-headed during use. Occasionally nausea can be experienced or a feeling of being “tired.” Some mothers complain of a dry mouth, so you may wish to have a glass of water to sip, or small ice cubes to suck. You may experience a tingling in your fingers. This is due to overbreathing. Your midwife will know when you are doing this and remind you of your breathing exercises (sigh out slowly) and this will automatically lead to rhythmic breathing.

Entonox only works when you breathe it in, so it's effects wear off very quickly once you stop breathing it, normally within a minute. Gas mixtures will give help to relieve discomfort but will not remove it completely. The best idea is to utilize TENS/relaxation/visualization/childbirth hypnosis techniques in earlier labor, then start using the gas after 6cm dilation until immediately before giving birth.

Discuss the Use of N2O/O2 (Nitrous Oxide with Oxygen) with Your Midwife or OB!

If you are interested in using “Gas & Air” during your labor, be sure to discuss it with your physician. It’s already “in the wall” at most hospitals. You will probably never hear about this effective and safe alternative to the more dangerous epidurals, unless YOU ASK ABOUT IT!

If you are planning to have your baby with a midwife outside of hospital, it can be used at a birth center and at home, but you will need to have the two separate tanks at your home, set up in advance. N2O is usually available from medical equipment rental companies which carry oxygen for home use. "Gas & Air" work great with water birth!

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