Nitrous Oxide is an inhaled medication that can be used at home and could replace the epidural for many people.  

I can remember planning for my first birth. I knew I didn’t want to use an epidural, but I was worried that all of the non-pharmaceutical coping strategies might not be enough to get me through birth. It’s a sentiment that a lot of Hamilton Family Doulas clients have. 

Some people find incredible relief by getting into a tub of water. Other birthing people use hypnosis to good effect. Yet other people are able to cultivate a mindset that is incredibly resilient to the stresses of birthing. But, I’ve also see equal numbers of people using these tools and not able to manage the challenges of labour.

Most of those people will have two choices: grit it out or get an epidural. 

It’s not much of a choice hen the choice is between no medical pain relief but full mobility and one medical pain relief that leaves you with no mobility. ** Note: IV narcotics are available but they are only used rarely and usually as a last resort if an epidural is not possible.

But now there is an alternative! 

People can now choose to use Nitrous Oxide in labour, an inhaled gas, that gives the user a reduction in pain levels and a greater sense of calm while still being fully mobile and able to start and stop using the medication at will. 

I was recently with a client who used this medication. Her midwives set up the tall canister and mouthpiece for her. When her contraction began she inhaled deeply as many times as she liked until the contraction subsided or she was as comfortable as she wished to be. 

While the Nitrous Oxide did not completely erase the discomfort my client felt, it did reduce the pain to a manageable level. It also helped to promote relaxation. And, given that my client had a very rapid labour, the amount of relief it provided was pretty remarkable. 

Currently, in Hamilton, this pain management tool is only available to the clients of The Hamilton Midwives who are having a home birth. 

This is both awesome and frustrating.

It’s awesome because this brings low risk medicinal pain relief into home births where, historically, no pain relief has been available before. It’s frustrating because all hospitals in the area should already be offering this to birthing people. 

Barriers to hospital based use are entirely due to workplace safety guidelines that require specific types of room ventilation. And our hospitals do not currently have proper ventilation in each labour room. That, too, is incredibly frustrating. This isn’t a new medication. People have been using Nitrous Oxide since at least the 50s around the world. Its use is standard in the UK. Why can’t Hamilton factor its use into the basic designs for all labour rooms?

Where does this leave you? If you are currently a Hamilton Midwives client and are thinking about a home birth you are in luck!  You can use Nitrous Oxide during your labour – and don’t worry, you can change your mind and go to the hospital for an epidural if the Nitrous Oxide is just not cutting it. 

If you are seeing an Obstetrician, a Midwife from another clinic, or a Family Practitioner, you can tell them and the hospital you are planning to deliver at, that you want to use Nitrous Oxide and you are disappointed that you cannot. It is only when you, the health system user, make your needs know, that the system will change itself to meet your demands.