The United States stopped using laughing gas during childbirth several decades ago, although it still used in Canada, Great Britain and other countries. The federal government is reviewing its use in the delivery room and it may make a comeback.
“CONCORD, N.H. – Labor pain is nothing to laugh at. Yet.”
“The use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, during childbirth fell out of favor in the United States decades ago, and just two hospitals — one in San Francisco and one in Seattle — still offer it. But interest in returning the dentist office staple to the delivery room is growing: respected hospitals including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center plan to start offering it, the federal government is reviewing it, and after a long hiatus, the equipment needed to administer it is expected to hit the market soon….”
“Though nitrous oxide is commonly used for labor pain relief in Canada, Great Britain and other countries, it’s been all but abandoned in the United States in favor of other options, such as epidurals, said Judith Bishop a certified nurse midwife at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center and leader in the effort to reintroduce nitrous oxide for labor.”
“With an epidural, medication to block pain seeps through a tube into space surrounding the spinal cord. Because it must be administered by an anesthesiologist, an epidural is significantly more expensive than nitrous oxide. Both are covered by insurance.”
” ‘In this country, most people when they hear about nitrous, they think it sounds pretty retro, that it sounds very old-fashioned and they’re sure there’s something bad or dangerous about it and we must’ve chosen to eliminate it. But I think we eliminated it because we went for the more specialized, higher-tech options,’ said Bishop, who will be among the speakers Monday at a conference for New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine hospital officials.”
“She and other advocates of reintroducing nitrous oxide emphasize that it is no silver bullet — it “takes the edge off” pain rather than eliminates it. But they say it should be among the options offered to women, particularly those who give birth at small or rural hospitals that lack round-the-clock anesthesiologists. Laughing gas is easy for women to self-administer, takes effect quickly, and can be used late in labor.”
“It’s not right for everybody, but it’s something that for many women will offer a certain amount of relief,” Bishop said.
“Michelle Collins, a certified nurse midwife and assistant nursing professor in Tennessee, previously worked as a nurse in London and saw how widely and well nitrous oxide was used there. She has been working with an anesthesiologist to bring nitrous oxide for laboring women at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and said she expects it to become available later this year.”
“Early Wednesday morning, she delivered a baby to a woman she said would have been a perfect candidate for nitrous oxide: the mother arrived at the hospital at midnight and gave birth about three hours later.
“There was a period of time just before birth when she was starting to lose it. Nitrous would’ve been awesome for her: just a few puffs to get her over that hump,” she said.”
(I love that quote!!)
“Vanderbilt has purchased second-hand equipment to deliver nitrous oxide, but Dartmouth-Hitchcock and others are hoping to buy new equipment that is expected to become available in April. After obstetric demand for nitrous oxide dropped, the one company that made the equipment stopped. But a new company has stepped into that gap and has begun taking orders.”
“At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where officials plan to order two machines, nurse midwife Suzanne Serat estimated that 10-20 percent of her patients might try nitrous oxide.”
” ‘We have a number of people who don’t want to feel the pain of labor, and nitrous oxide would not be a good option for them. They really need an epidural, and that’s perfect for them,’ she said. ‘Then we have a number of people who are going to wait and see what happens, and when they’re in labor, decide they’d like something and then the only option for them is an epidural but they don’t need something that strong. So they would choose to use something in the middle, but we just don’t have anything in the middle.’ ”
“The hospital hopes to begin offering nitrous oxide for labor by summer. In the meantime, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is reviewing the effectiveness and safety of nitrous oxide compared to other pain relief methods.”
I think laughing gas makes a lot of sense in the delivery room for several reasons.
No. 1 – In the last two years I have had a root canal and a crown put on. I am super afraid of drilling at the dentist. At let me just say that with that laughing gas I just didn’t care at all. I can absolutely see how that attitude would work well with giving birth. You can still follow commands, you still know what’s going on, it’s just that you are very relaxed and a little bit loopy. (I would start chuckling to myself over something very funny internally. The dentist loved that – what’s so funny?)
No. 2 – With Walsh I had some sort of painkiller cocktail which left you basically feeling drunk. (I was last in line to get an epidural so they gave me that to hold me until they could get to me.) It was fantastic. You were aware and with it but just felt a little drunk. You could still feel the contractions, but you just weren’t that concerned with them. So if the laughing gas acted similarly I think you could deliver on that.
No.3 – I did NOT have an epidural with my third and I swear I recovered so much faster! So that would seem to be a great advantage to me – also besides not potentially drugging the baby. I was up walking to the bathroom right after her birth and just overall seemed more with it faster. We nursed great, we slept great. (That could also be a function of a third.)
So what do you think: Would you choose laughing gas over an epidural? What do you make that other countries use and we don’t? Do you think it would be strong enough to get your through labor? If you are pregnant now, would you ask your doctor or midwife about it?