Precious little Isaac, our 9th child, was born yesterday at 2:26 am. The memory of his birth is fresh in my mind. This is the first time I opted for using nitrous oxide during labor and childbirth. My hospital just began offering it in July. Prior to Isaac's birth, I searched for stories about this new option in the U.S. but couldn't find many. I thought people might appreciate my thoughts on how it compares to my unmedicated labor experiences. NOTE: If you're just here to read about nitrous oxide, feel free to skip down to the heading, "My Experience with Nitrous Oxide During Labor and Birth."
Four days ago I was at 41 weeks and had resigned myself to an induction. My doctor strongly encouraged it, I think due to my age, increasingly rapid labors, gestational diabetes, and c-section with our 8th child. Our 8th child had been transverse (on his side instead of head down). My doctor had turned him to head down, only to have him go transverse again. So the possibility of me experiencing a rapid labor with a transverse baby was also in the back of our minds. The induction was scheduled for today.
Bradley Got Me Through Previous Labors
My husband and I did the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth classes with our first pregnancy seventeen years ago, and so have been against interventions and medication. My first labor was long and difficult, but with no interventions or pain medication. The others (with the exception of the c-section and one other when I started labor exhausted) were shorter and again, we relied only on the relaxation techniques and laboring positions we learned in the Bradley classes. All of our babies were born sunny side up--meaning that they were in the posterior face-up position when born, which tends to cause the dreaded back labor and also can make pushing more difficult.
I’m 42, and my last four pregnancies have been labeled “advanced maternal age” and “grand multiparous.” However, this is the first one where I’ve actually felt old and tired. I took good care of myself during this pregnancy, getting lots of sleep and eating pretty well (to fight my borderline gestational diabetes), and I did some exercise (it was mostly running after our kids and working at our new cabin).
However, having experienced hot flashes and the fatigue of the beginnings of the transition to menopause in the months before this pregnancy, I went into the whole thing feeling older and more tired. First trimester was definitely my worst this time around.
Doctor Brought Up Nitrous Oxide for Labor
My doctor knows I always go for unmedicated births, but he wanted to tell me about the new nitrous oxide option at our birth center. He wanted to tell me about it because my platelets started dropping near the end of this pregnancy. If they continued to drop, he said that an epidural would not be an option.
At first I was skeptical. But after researching nitrous oxide during labor, I began to consider using it. The reason I opted for an epidural during labor with my 4th child was because I was so tired, but it didn’t work to stop the pain (it actually gave me back pain for weeks!), and I didn’t want to risk the side effects. I knew that I would be tired going into this labor because of my age.
I wasn’t worried about “pushing confusion” (not understanding how or when to push), which was one complaint I had read about using nitrous oxide, because this being (hopefully) my 8th vaginal birth, I really felt like I know what I’m doing in that respect. I wasn’t worried about getting sick (vomiting) because I have a strong stomach, and nitrous at the dentist’s office had never bothered me as a child.
In the end, I decided that I would be open to using it during the stages of transition and pushing.
Woke Up In Transition!
Throughout the day on Tuesday the 15th (41 weeks, 2 days), I experienced the same mild prodromal labor I’d been experiencing for about a week. I went to bed at 10:30pm, thinking it would be another quiet night. But I was wrong! I woke up at 12:30am in the midst of a powerful contraction. Then about a minute after it stopped, another one started. They were less than three minutes apart! I sat and hoped that labor wasn’t starting, because I really don’t like laboring overnight as I had with four of the others. But then another one struck. Again, the spacing was less than 3 minutes. My husband got me to the hospital by 1am. They measured me, and I was at 7cm.
My Experience with Nitrous Oxide During Labor and Birth
I remember asking to try nitrous oxide, and it feeling like forever before it was set up (it was probably only 15 minutes!). I used it from about 1:45am until 2:30am when Isaac was born. SO, about 45 minutes total. I probably used it for about 15 contractions, and then for about five or ten minutes almost continually while I was pushing. I removed it maybe three times during the pushing stage because I was feeling dizzy. I would gasp for regular air and then when the dizziness wore off, I put it back on.
I distinctly remember my experience with the first contraction using nitrous oxide. It didn’t take all the pain away, but WOW, it was so much easier to get through! I took the mask off, laughed, and said, “It’s almost not even fair,” to which my husband and the nurses laughed. It really, really took the edge off. Having been trained in and having used the relaxation techniques for labor thanks to Bradley, I understand the fear/tension/pain cycle. I always thought I was a master of it. The nitrous relaxed me way more though. It took away the fear and tension, and made the pain much more manageable than during my completely unmedicated labors.
After Isaac was born, it was just like with the others. He was super healthy and alert, and latched on right away. I also felt great, as with the other births (except the c-section)!
What I Recommend
Overall, I’d definitely recommend it to moms like me who are older, or who are tired, or who maybe have a few extra concerns due to having GD or being a VBAC, or having a posterior baby. I would encourage first time moms to take Bradley Method classes and try to avoid using the nitrous oxide at all for their first baby. The nitrous is no substitute for being well-informed, nor for practicing the types of relaxation methods that are taught as part of Bradley classes..There's a reason why over 90% of Bradley births are unmedicated! Oh – and baby Isaac ended up following suit and was born sunny side up (posterior) just like all his siblings! Yes - that made things more difficult than if he'd been anterior, but it was great because I could compare his birth with nitrous more fairly to the others.
What Do YOU Recommend?
I'd love to know! The reason I took the time to write this is because there seems to be a lack of stories about nitrous oxide during labor out there. Please comment and share! Thanks!!