Cooley Dickinson Childbirth Center Offers Nitrous Oxide for Laboring Moms

NORTHAMPTON — Pregnant women at Cooley Dickinson’s Childbirth Center who want more options for pain management during labor and delivery now have access to nitrous oxide, a safe form of mild sedation. Nitrous oxide is commonly associated with dental procedures.

“Nitrous is an option that is growing in popularity in academic medical centers and community hospitals,” said obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Ruth Pryor, adding that the official statement of the American College of Nurse Midwives is supportive of nitrous oxide as a safe option for pain relief for women.

Clinicians at Cooley Dickinson began looking into offering nitrous oxide when women in the community started inquiring about it as an option for pain relief during labor. The Cooley Dickinson Medical Group women’s-health providers performed an informal survey to find out more about women’s preferences; most people surveyed an interest in learning more about this option.

Pryor said some women like the option of nitrous oxide because it can ease anxiety and pain for women in active labor. “There is also a degree of control. A woman can inhale the nitrous as she needs it.”

Nitrous oxide can be used during labor, delivery, or immediately after labor if a woman feels she needs some pain relief. In contrast, an epidural, a form of anesthesia, lasts longer, and women who choose the epidural option tend to have limited feeling from their waist down, so they are unable to walk during labor, according to Pryor.

Nitrous oxide, which has been used in Europe for decades for laboring moms, is safe and doesn’t have any long-term side effects on mother or baby. It is used intermittently and is inhaled through a face mask, and is not used with any other form of sedation or anesthesia. Since nitrous oxide is dispensed through a face mask and not an IV, women can be more flexible in their movements prior to the delivery of their baby.

To ensure safety for all involved, the Cooley Dickinson’s Perinatal Safety Committee approved new policies that govern the use of nitrous oxide for labor and delivery. The policy also requires the use of a closed air-flow system so any nitrous oxide that is exhaled by the patient is captured and filtered through a wall suction system.

Patients choosing nitrous oxide are monitored by their nurse. Women who are interested in using nitrous oxide during their labor and delivery should discuss this option with their doctor or nurse midwife.

To educate the community about this new option, Pryor will host “Nitrous Oxide in Labor: An Information Session” on Tuesday, Nov. 17 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. She will explain how nitrous oxide is used in labor, discuss other options for pain management during labor, and answer attendees’ questions. This free session will be held at Women’s Health/Midwifery (in the yellow house), 10 Denniston Place, on the Cooley Dickinson Hospital campus in Northampton.

For more information, contact Kate Bohne at (413) 586-9866, ext. 8, or