Laboring Through the Pain


Nitrous oxide provides mothers a new pain relief option during labor.

Mother-to-be, Sara Payne, crafted her birth plan beautifully, with natural child birth and no pain medicine at the top of the list. But after hours of painful contractions, the “au naturel” birth plan no longer seemed so appealing.

Sara, like many expectant mothers, struggled with the decision of using pain medication during the delivery – wanting to make the best choice for herself and the health of her new baby.

As the pain worsened, she began to rethink her birth plan and her options for pain relief.

The first option her nurse mentioned was the well-known epidural – a regional anesthesia used to block nerve impulses from the lower spinal segments, resulting in decreased sensation in the lower body. Epidurals are the most commonly used option for mothers due to the almost-instantaneous pain relief. But the downfall, at least for Sara, was the possibility of a catheter during labor, due to decreased sensation from the waist down.

Then there was IV narcotic pain medication, which Sara thought was her only other pain relief option that offered low complications with a fairly easy administration. But Payne was unsure of the lingering loopiness and out-of-body feeling she’d heard others talk about with these medications.

So were there any options for her, in the midst of her pain? That’s when her nurse mentioned the use of nitrous oxide (N2O).

Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) is the first hospital in Georgia to offer this type of pain relief for laboring mothers. N2O, also known as “laughing gas,” is most commonly administered in a dental setting for procedures such as root canals or cavity fillings.

“N2O, in Labor and Delivery, is a 50-50 mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen that women inhale through a mouthpiece,” said Heather Standard, manager of the Labor and Delivery unit at NGMC in Gainesville.

“Yet unlike a dental office, where it’s administered continuously, the mother decides when and how often to use the medication,” she adds.

“The patient breathes in the gas at the start of a contraction, timing it so they receive the most pain relief at the peak of the contraction. The gas wears off within a few breaths after inhaling, so the effects end with the contraction. This is an advantage over the narcotics, which can linger in the mom and newborn – making both sleepy and even affecting the baby’s ability to breastfeed.”

While it doesn’t provide the complete pain relief of an epidural, N2O can be a good option for mothers looking to “take the edge off” of their intense contractions during the labor process.

“We’ve found it to be a great coping mechanism for the pain, while still maintaining the feel and awareness of natural child birth,” Heather adds.

N2O is also a good option for mothers who arrive too late to receive the epidural, or those that can’t have one due to other medical issues, such as low platelets.

Intrigued by the idea of pain relief with minimal to no side effects, Sara decided to try N2O. “I wanted something that I knew would wear off easily, but would tone down the pain during the contractions. I definitely was a little bit loopy, but that faded after I got the timing right and was able to predict when I needed the gas.”

With the help of N2O and a great care team, Sara gave birth to her baby girl, Karis, with no complications.

Sara says her labor experience was extremely positive and stress-free – yet one she’ll never forget. So pleased with her experience, Sara has already said that she will use N2O again for any future births.

“I think we’ll start to see a big push for this, as more mothers become aware of their options,” says Heather. “We’re fortunate to be able to offer this as a new option for mothers who are looking for an alternative to lessen pain during labor – without the use of longer-lasting narcotics.” 

For more information about labor & delivery services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, visit or call 770-219-3740.


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