This Common Drug Is Being Used for Childbirth—and It’ll Have You Laughing through Labor

If you're having a baby, we've got great news about a brand new way of getting you through those painful contractions. And it doesn't involve a spinal tap or needles, but it is going to make you laugh.

birthKieferPix/shutterstockGiving birth is the challenge of a lifetime, which is why it’s best to go in fully informed—check out these 14 truths no one tells you about giving birth. Another thing every expectant mom should know is that there’s a new pain reliever on the menu, and it’s both safe and laughably effective. We mean that in a good way.

Your new option is laughing gas, which as of October 30 of this year, officially became a pain management option for laboring moms at Houston’s Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. Laughing gas—officially, nitrous oxide—is a colorless and tasteless gas made for inhalation for the provision of pain relief, explains Gregory Eads M.D., chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands. “Although it’s frequently used in dental offices to help with pain, the concentration we’re administering to laboring mothers is much milder, comprised of a mix of 50 percent nitrous gas and 50 percent oxygen,” he says.

“You can see from the instructional video that we created,” adds Dr. Eads, “that the patient self-administers the gas” via a mask. Because of the low concentration, there is no concern for overdosing, and the patient can breathe it in continuously, or she can time her inhalations to her contractions.

The advantage of using laughing gas is decreased pain and decreased anxiety, according to Dr. Eads, who also believes that the more options a woman has for taking control of her pain, the more empowered she feels. Additionally, laughing gas also empowers the woman to have control over how much pain relief to use because she is the one self-administering it. In terms of safety, studies and clinical practice have shown that it’s safe for both mother and baby because the gas gets expelled from the body through the lungs within a breath or two of the mask being removed. Nor does laughing gas adversely impact the progress of labor or disrupt the release of oxytocin, which means it does not affect infant alertness during the early bonding period between a mother and her newborn. And there’s no negative impact on the mother’s ability to breastfeed. In addition, the use of the gas doesn’t require additional fetal monitoring, and it’s safe for a patient to choose an epidural after nitrous oxide use. “There isn’t really a time limit,” Dr. Eads explains, “although obviously, no labor should continue indefinitely.”

Any woman with normal lung function is eligible for laughing gas, and it can be used during the postpartum period for pain relief as well. However, Dr. Eads encourages patients to consult with their own healthcare providers regarding maternal use of laughing gas. He also believes that laughing gas may be a good option in the case of other uncomfortable medical procedures, including biopsies and turning breech babies.

Studies have shown that laughing gas may also have a place in C-section births. Which, by the way, is another thing to brush up on before the contractions start: Be aware of these C-section myths and also the signs you might be heading toward a C-section.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.