Only two U.S. hospitals will let you use nitrous oxide for pain relief during birth


Do hospitals frown on patients bringing in their own whippets? Americans certainly do know about those, or so I’m told.

Let’s see: nitrous oxide is administered by women themselves so there can only be a usage fee. Pain relief by injection or any other means requires “professional” help so not only are there charges for the meds, but there’s charges for administering the dosage. Hmm which one generates more income?


My wife just gave birth 3 months ago, and had Nitrous Oxide available during the contractions. Baptist hospital in Nashville, TN. It was a decently new option, but it was there.


Dentists on this side of the pond don’t seem to use it any more either, though their offices still seem to be plumbed with wall taps for it. I have no idea whether there was a medical safety reason, or a fire safety reason, or if it just wasn’t predictable/controllable enough, or…

And if you think “there can only be a usage fee”, you haven’t looked at American hospital practices or billing recently.

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I was pretty solidly into the midwife camp when I had my kid. I went to a birthing center and was attended by midwives and didn’t use any drugs. It was fine - I was ok - but afterwards it felt like I’d been strangely obsessed with the birthing process which is just one day of your life. It’s an important day, but then I went home with an infant, a total expert in dilation, contractions, and breathing but a complete dunce about diapering, swaddling, and breastfeeding. In retrospect, it seems like I got fixated in the wrong way.

Later I became involved with a group that advocated for midwifery in NC and began to research a lot of the stuff I’d learned from the midwives and, honestly, there are camps there. It seems like with both the doctors and the midwives, they argue from the end. Midwives begin with drug-free is best and will use research to support that; doctors the opposite.

I still have a lot of issues with the birth experience in hospitals, but where I have landed is this: having a healthy baby is the most important thing MEDICALLY, but there is also a spiritual event happening, a family is being birthed too. That part of this momentous occasion is so missed, almost discouraged, by the hospital staff. The spiritual event I believe needs to be attended to.

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I sure could have used a little nitrous when my wife was in labour, especially the first time.


Just out of curiosity, what if you “happened” to be in Canada when you go into labour? I suppose your health insurance might not cover it, but being able to trip balls plus dual citizenship for the kid might be worth it.

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Gas and Air is quite popular at conception time in the UK, as well :wink:

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No fire hazard, but I asked a dentist about it a few years back, and was told that it poses a very small risk of death - while novocain poses zero. I didn’t bother researching further.


Pure speculation: one reason hospitals may not keep Nitrous around and handy is it’s potential for abuse, if not by patients, by employees. A fellow student in my high school was a hospital volunteer and died asphyxiation while abusing nitrous in a hospital.

I’m sure you have to do a dozen things wrong to die doing that, but the liability/risk is there.


Maybe you could just plan to give birth at a Phish concert.


I don’t know anything about nitrous gas, the benefits, problems, etc. But I will say that, having witnessed my wife give birth with no drugs whatsoever, I’m pretty fairly convinced that our culture is so obsessed with comfort and convenience that they don’t even consider this alternative, which, for millions of years was not an alternative at all, simply the only way it could be done.

I’m not here to browbeat anyone into doing things one way or another. Simply, that, just like all the other reasons why people are going back to the simple, natural way of doing things (like eating), I have a lot more faith in the way nature has figured birthing out than in the way doctors have figured it out- especially since they’re constantly flip-flopping on what they think is “the” way.

To put it another way- yes, giving birth is tough. And painful. But it’s not as painful as you’re led to believe, or, rather, there are many techniques to overcome that pain. Neither my wife nor me really practiced for the birth, we didn’t do “hypno-birthing” or anything like that, we simply had a really helpful midwife assistant who kept us focused on overcoming each wave of pain as the contractions kicked in. Obviously, I didn’t do the hard part- but you can ask my wife, who is far from a masochist in any other aspect of life. She just focused, did it, and it was over. What’s more, one benefit of a natural birth is that when it’s over, you hit this euphoric state with a second wind that lets you appreciate those first few moments with your child. You’re not all drugged up and bedridden. A couple of hours after the birth, we were driving home with our baby, as surreal as that seems. This is pretty common with natural births- there’s no need to stay at the hospital for days recovering.

If the idea of a natural birth freaks you out, then don’t have one. Just know that it is an option, and, in fact, one with some great benefits that sidesteps the whole question of “what pain killer do I use during labor?”


My thought process:
“Hmm, people bringing Whippets to hospital seems like a quintessentially working class English scenario. I had no idea they were such a popular breed in the US. I wonder how they help with pain control? Maybe having the dog there calms people down. Why Whippets though, surely any breed would do? Whippets don’t strike me as being particularly calming, if anything the look high-strung. maybe I’d better Google this”

“Ahhhh, I see where I went wrong.”


While trying to find a dentist for some long-overdue work, I asked the receptionist at oe dental office if they offered Nitrous Oxide, and they told me that they “didn’t believe in it” and that it was “just a crutch”. So, I found a different dentist who didn’t view my anxiety about dental work to be some kind of moral failing. I wonder if it’s similar with childbirth as well. Combine that with the low profit margin, and there you have it.


Heady Balloons 3 for $20!


Fair, but there’s a lot of grey area between “I am completely dedicated to a drug-free birth” and “I have absolutely no interest in a drug-free birth”. What’s more, my understanding is that there’s a lot of variation in how women experience labor pain (one woman’s “no big” is another’s “oh holy shit” and there’s more going on in that variation than just “oh, you did it wrong”).

Anecdotally, I don’t think most women like being faced with an all-or-nothing choice on labor pain. And I think there should be more options for pain relief and pain management that allow you to better navigate the reality of birth … which is that some people might want a little something at some point in the process, but don’t necessarily want to be paralyzed from the waist down.


My husband has offered to bring some to the hospital. I question this idea.


My dentist in Texas has offered it for use during regular cleanings.

We’re in England - My wife has two home births under her belt (as it were). The hospital delivered a couple of cannisters two weeks prior to the due date for use during labour, and picked them up when we were all done.