Most moms will tell you that childbirth is no walk in the park. The mental part—the fear and the anxiety—certainly doesn't help, especially among those brave souls who opt out of an epidural (the spinal tap doctors use to alleviate labor pains by decreasing sensation in the lower half of the body).
To give expectant moms a break, doctors in the United States are reverting back to a not-so-new pain-management technique long used in dentist offices everywhere and delivery rooms in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and Finland: inhaling laughing gas or nitrous oxide. [H/T ABC News]
All you have to do is hold a gas mask to your face for about 30 seconds before a contraction and inhale. In less than a minute, the gas reduces anxiety and the perception of pain. The effects wear off a few minutes after you release the mask.
While experts agree that epidurals provide superior physical pain relief, nitrous oxide is a less invasive option that can help your brain handle the pain, according to Dr. Edward Yaghmour, anesthesiologist and chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists' Committee on Obstetric Anesthesia. (Luckily, you don't have to choose between gas and hard-core analgesia: Some women request laughing gas to delay getting an epidural or when an anesthesiologist isn't available to administer the serious stuff ASAP.)
The more you inhale, the more you'll feel the effects, Dr. Yaghmour explains. Simply removing the mask can help you manage your own dosage, so you can go easy on the gas or go to town. Overall, this gives you more direct and immediate control than you have when you opt for an epidural. Still, nitrous oxide can make you feel a little loopy, aloof, nauseous, dizzy, or even make you vomit (which you need like a hole in your head when you're trying to push out a baby).
While nitrous oxide is generally considered to be safe, according to a 2012 review of existing research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, experts still don't know for sure whether gas can affect the fetus. But until more research is done, doctors don't seem worried, and pregnant women sure aren't complaining.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.