I Want Relief But I Don’t Want an Epidural

Asian Pregnant Woman patient is on drip receiving a saline solut

We have this great option for pain management in childbirth here in Nashville that is coming back in popularity: nitrous oxide. This isn’t your dentist’s nitrous oxide, but a combination of 50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen. It won’t completely numb you like an epidural will, but is often described as “taking the edge off.”

Nitrous oxide was a very popular tool for pain management before the 1950s, and is now making a rebound in popularity, largely thanks to midwives pushing to make this safe option available for birthing people. One of those midwives is Michelle Collins, who we had the opportunity to speak with last year about nitrous oxide use for parents in Nashville.

What we’ve learned is that nitrous oxide is a great option for birthing individuals who prefer to avoid an epidural for pain relief or prolong using it as long as possible. Why is this?

  • You are not confined to the bed when using nitrous oxide and can actively manage your labor, as opposed to being still in bed with an epidural.
  • There is no evidence of nitrous oxide having negative effects on labor progression or the parent’s ability to push, which is not the case with epidurals.  
  • There is no evidence of nitrous oxide having adverse effects on the newborn.
  • Nitrous oxide has rapid onset and offset in the body. Its effects are experienced within a few breaths, and similarly it exits the body quickly. An epidural can take a long time to be placed, and does not leave the body nearly as quickly.
  • There is no evidence that you are better off holding off as long as possible using nitrous oxide, and there is no time limit for how long you can use it.
  • Using nitrous oxide can be much less expensive than getting an epidural.

We are so happy that parents have the option to use nitrous oxide at Vanderbilt, St. Thomas Midtown, and Baby + Co here in Nashville. At Music City Doulas, we believe an array of safe choices for birthing people is a key component to a positive birth experience, and are versed in all you have available to you. Should you choose to use nitrous oxide in labor, your doula will be able to help you use it safely and correctly, and work with your medical team to give you the most supported experience possible.