Laughing gas a new option for laboring moms

Laboring moms now have a new option for easing labor pains: nitrous oxide.

Legacy Emanuel Medical Center is now offering women in labor nitrous oxide – more commonly called ‘laughing gas’ – to help ease contraction pain.

Legacy Emanuel is the only hospital in Portland offering nitrous oxide – for now. Oregon Health & Science University announced earlier this year it planned to offer nitrous oxide this fall.

Moms-to-be in Clark County will also soon be able to use nitrous oxide. Legacy officials hope to have laughing gas available at the Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center this spring.

So will women now be giggling through labor?

Not quite.

“It wasn’t the he-he, ha-ha laughing gas I was expecting,” said Cheryl Thiele, who used nitrous oxide when delivering her son last month, in a news release. “It was just this calm, relaxing, ‘I can handle this’ feeling that came over me.”

Here’s how it works: Just before a labor pain begins, the woman holds the mask around her nose and mouth and breaths in. The woman controls how much nitrous oxide she receives, based on how deeply she inhales. When she pulls the mask away, the effect is gone in a few seconds.

Nitrous oxide is the only pain relief method for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs. The gas is flavorless and odorless and is mixed with 50 percent oxygen.

“I really liked that I was in control of how much I could take in, and if I didn’t want it, I could just stop,” Thiele said. “It wasn’t something that was injected into me. No one was poking and prodding me. It felt empowering.”

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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