Guess what?! We have some BIG news to share. Everyone take a deep breath and count to three! 1…2…3…

We are bringing nitrous to our birth center!

And don’t worry, it’s not for us 😉 It is only for those in labor!

We want to make sure you are educated on all of the pain relief options for your birth, so today we are answering some of our most asked questions regarding the use of nitrous for your birth.

Nitrous oxide has been used for temporary pain relief during labor for many years. Nitrous was used in the U.S. before epidural anesthesia became popular. Once epidurals took over the labor and delivery units of the hospitals, companies that made nitrous oxide equipment could no longer keep up with the popularity of epidurals. Therefore, those companies stopped making  nitrous equipment in the U.S. but it is important to note that nitrous is still being used daily in the U.K., Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia. You may have seen it in television shows like “Call the Midwife” where it is fondly called, “gas and air”. UCSF is one of the only hospitals in the US that continued to offer nitrous all this time. Due to it’s popularity with women who prefer to avoid more invasive interventions, nitrous is making a major comeback.

The nitrous that we use at San Francisco Birth Center is a 50% Oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide.  It is a good option that allows you to actively participate in your birth and also get some pain relief.  Nitrous oxide takes effect in seconds and offers immediate relief of pain and anxiety without any needles or long lasting effects. You control when and how long to use it. It also allows you to recognize and respond to your contractions on your own terms. The worst thing people say about nitrous is they didn’t like the feeling it gave them or it didn’t do enough. Good news, if you don’t like it, you stop using it and we’ll try other things.  There are no lasting effects when you use nitrous and you can be up and moving around to actively participate in your labor. Nitrous is known to “take the edge off” if you just need a few minutes of relief during labor.

Sounds great right?

We should probably be clear that the nitrous is only for the person in labor. Unfortunately, you can’t share it with your support person, but we’ll let them choose the music 😉

Another important question is how does it work? Our equipment handles the mixing to ensure a perfect 50/50 blend is delivered with each breath. You hold your own mask and inhale as you start to feel a contraction. You will keep the mask held to your face throughout your contraction, and continue breathing in and out to help you relax and cope with labor. It is truly THAT easy!

We know, we know, we are making this sound way too simple, right? So there must be some negative? Some concern with how it affects the baby? Something!?

No, there isn’t! That is why we are SO excited to offer nitrous at San Francisco Birth Center! There are no known effects on the baby. Nitrous is the only pain relief method used for labor that is cleared from the body through the lungs, so as soon as you pull the mask away, the nitrous effect is gone within a breath or two. We don’t even require extra fetal monitoring when you choose to use nitrous for pain relief during labor.

So what is the catch? There are a few contraindications, which we talk about with you before we start using it, but really, there is none! A review of studies on the use of nitrous oxide in labor found it to be effective analgesia for many women while also being safe for the mothers, babies, and health care providers.  Other than maybe a little nausea that can be fixed with a few deep breaths of fresh air, there is no catch, but there are a ton of benefits!

Advantages of nitrous during labor include:


  • Self-Administered
  • Easy to Use
  • Takes effect quickly
  • Quick Recovery
  • Actively participate—can be used at any time in labor right up to the birth
  • Can move around freely
  • Does not interfere with your labor progress or ability to push

Whew! That was a long description but we are glad we got to share all of this incredible information with you. We know that you might have a few more questions so we want you to post them in the comments below! If you are a current client or someone who might be interested in this service please give us a call and let us talk to you one-on-one about nitrous (415) 780-0848.