Women's Health

February 21, 2017

Laughing gas for labor

Although nitrous oxide was less effective than epidural anesthesia for pain management during labor, mothers who used nitrous oxide were equally satisfied with their childbirth experience.

by Sanjay Mishra

(photo by Daniel Dubois)

Nitrous oxide – known as “laughing gas” – is used during dental procedures to ease pain, and it is available for pain management during childbirth. Evidence that nitrous oxide is effective for labor pain is limited, but pain-killing (analgesic) effectiveness may not be the most important factor in patient satisfaction during labor.

Michael Richardson, M.D., led a study to compare satisfaction during childbirth and analgesic effectiveness of nitrous oxide, neuraxial injections (epidural or spinal-epidural), or both. The researchers asked 6,507 mothers who delivered vaginally over a three-year period to rate their analgesia quality and satisfaction on a ten-point scale.

They found that neuraxial analgesia was more effective in pain management compared to nitrous oxide. But mothers who only used nitrous oxide were equally satisfied with their childbirth experience despite less effective pain relief by nitrous oxide.

The results, reported in the February issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, suggest that analgesic effectiveness is not the only determinant of overall maternal satisfaction during childbirth.

This research was supported by the Vanderbilt Department of Anesthesiology.

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