During labor, epidurals are the commonly used medication to reduce labor pains but new research has demonstrated women who inhaled analgesics have reported lower labor pains.

Researchers discovered women who inhaled nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, or a group of drugs known as flurane analgesics experienced less pain compared to those who only breathed in oxygen or didn't use a face mask during labor.

Trudy Klomp, MSc, of the Midwifery Academy of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues, reviewed 26 studies of more than 2,500 women in the early stages of labor. The review revealed both nitrous oxide and flurane products were associated with lower labor pains on a 100-point scale. However, women who used flurane products stated their pain levels were 14 points lower, compared to woman who used nitrous oxide.

Women who were given nitrous oxide were more likely to report nausea, vomiting, dizziness and drowsiness, whereas women who were not administered any analgesics did not. According to Klomp, women who inhaled analgesics will feel some pain, but the pain is minimized.

The results also demonstrated inhaled analgesia can reduce labor pains without increasing delivery rates. Though flurane products were found to be slightly more effective than nitrous oxide, nitrous oxide is commonly known and is used due to the availability of safe equipment.

An epidural is the most common medication used for labor pains. Most women prefer epidurals because they choose to feel no pain at all. Researchers warn epidurals can make labor longer. Women will need to take further medication to induce contractions after being administered the injection. Epidurals also increase the risk of mothers and newborns developing a fever.

Researchers stated due to lack of information the following results were not factored: sense of control, satisfaction with childbirth experience, effect on mother/baby interaction, breastfeeding, admission to special care baby unit, poor infant outcomes at long-term follow-up or costs.

The review was published in The Cochrane Library.