“It is the position of the American College of Nurse‐Midwives that women should have access to a variety of measures to assist them in coping with the challenges of labor.”
The ACNM notes that a blend of inhaled nitrous oxide and oxygen is used for pain relief in labor in many other countries, but it not typically available in the United States, where epidural anesthesia and systemic opioids are more common.
Potential benefits of nitrous oxide are outlined in the document, including the ability for a woman to self-administer via face mask, the ability to quickly administer or discontinue the gas, and the lack of known adverse effects on the woman, fetus, or progress of labor.
Concerns about potential adverse effects, especially from occupational exposure to the gas for health workers, are also detailed and addressed in the document.
While nitrous oxide is not without side effects and will not be agreeable to or effective for every laboring woman, it is an inexpensive, simple, reasonably safe and effective analgesic. It is important that midwives know about nitrous oxide analgesia and be able to offer it to women during labor.
See our previous related posts on the topic for more information and discussion, as well as this archived chat with the author of “Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth.”