Early this year, ACNM released a new Position Statement on the use of nitrous oxide for managing labor pain. Unless you are a midwife or other clinician, it can be hard to understand why nitrous oxide and the ACNM Position Statement is such an exciting topic. I just finished combing through a thorough, informative post at Science and Sensibility that helped me realize why—as a 29-year-old woman hoping to someday experience pregnancy and birth on my own terms—my enthusiasm has piqued. Nitrous oxide has the potential to expand access to choice related to one of the most sensitive issues around birth—pain management.
As certified nurse-midwife Judith Rooks so aptly articulates in the Science and Sensibility post, “Every woman and labor is unique. There is no single best method of labor analgesia. Every method has advantages and disadvantages, and different women value different things.” Just as women need options in where and with whom to give birth, women need to be able to choose which methods of pain control best match with their beliefs, experiences, health status, and stage of labor.
I won’t even try to rival Judith Rooks’ overview of what nitrous oxide is, how it is used, and how it works. Instead, I leave you with four ways nitrous oxide has the potential to expand access to choice.
- More Options for Pain Management in Homes and Birth centers. While midwives can help women manage the pain of labor through a variety of options like massage, emotional support, and water immersion, many women find it comforting to know that their midwife can order pain medication if they end up needing it. In homes and birth centers, that drug could be nitrous oxide rather than an epidural, which is only available in hospitals.
- More Options for Pain Management in Hospitals. If a woman decides that she wants an epidural, she has to wait until labor is well established and for the anesthetist or nurse anesthetist to administer the epidural. That same woman can use nitrous oxide to take the edge off the pain while she waits to be able to have an epidural. Depending on her response to nitrous oxide, she may even decide she does not need the epidural.
- Freedom to Move. If delivered through portable equipment, nitrous oxide can be used without sacrificing movement during labor. Women can still change positions, walk, go to the bathroom, or soak in a tub.
- Freedom to Change Your Mind. If a woman decides that she does not like how nitrous oxide makes her feel or decides she no longer needs it, her body will be completely free of it in less than five minutes from the time she stops inhaling it.