“Gas and Air” — a gentler approach to pharmacological pain management in labor

My first introduction to nitrous oxide and oxygen — or “gas and air” — as an option for pain management in labor was reading about an American woman giving birth in the UK a few years ago.  She was surprised and happy that with this birth, she felt more in control of her labor experience, was able to move around, yet still had some pharmacological help with the pain of birth.  She still had pain, but she was able to get through it without an epidural – something she had felt impossible with the birth of her first child.

Gas and air is used often in many countries.  In the United States, gas and air has not become a standard of care for pain management for birth.  In fact, only two hospitals in the country use it for birth- one being the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.  Yet recently, the American College of Nurse-Midwives is pushing for its more widespread use.

Consider the benefits of nitrous oxide pain management:

- It starts working very quickly, and can be started and stopped easily on a mother’s own will (by putting the gas mask to her face or taking it off).  She is in control of her own experience.

- It doesn’t slow labor as epidurals do.  It doesn’t increase risk of foreceps/vacuum extraction.

- It doesn’t require more monitoring and other interventions as epidurals do (blood pressure cuff, pulse, IV fluids, bladder catheter, more intensive monitoring, etc.)

- You can still move around to other positions for labor and pushing, and can still feel the urge to push.

You should know that it does make a mom a little light-headed, and like any drug, some of it does go to the baby, passing through it’s liver for processing, which can take a few days.  Read more about the nitrous oxide for birth here, then write your hospital/care provider and ask them to look into approving this method of pain management for birth.  Historically, it has been consumers who have changed the maternity care system in this country!