For most of history, women have given birth naturally—sans medications, epidurals, pain meds or...laughing gas?
Nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas, isn't just for your visit to the dentist anymore! The clear, colorless gas is usually mixed 50/50 with oxygen, and leads to a relaxed state and pain relief. According to an NPR report, laughing gas is quickly growing in popularity in the delivery room due to its quick and effective pain management benefits.
“When the contractions started getting pretty intense, I was like, ‘wow, this is pretty bad,'” Amy Marks, a previous patient at the South County Hospital in North Kingston in Rhode Island, said. “So they brought it in and it really took the edge off.”
“You’re going through the contraction, you’re breathing in and out, maybe do five, six breaths, get to the peak of the contraction, and I kind of didn’t really need any more, I could bear the rest of the contraction,” she said. “I was giggly. But only for like 15 to 30 seconds.”
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While it's not as strong as an epidural, laughing gas can make the pain a little more bearable.
"It takes the edge off," Marks' midwife, Cynthia Voytas told Kaiser Health. "It gives you this euphoria that helps you sort of forget about the pain for a little bit."
It doesn't kill the pain entirely, sure, but it sure does relax your body! While the epidural numbs the important parts of your body, laughing gas doesn't. It simple disassociates the patient from the pain, reducing anxiety surrounding the birth. Patients who utilized laughing gas instead of an epidural experienced safe births with more bearable pain levels. Nearly 300 U.S. hospitals offer it to women in labor, and the list is expected to grow exponentially.
"For some women, the epidural is going to be their number one choice. For other women, they want to be unmedicated and have nothing and that's their choice. For other women, nitrous oxide is a viable choice," Michelle Collins, a professor of nurse midwifery at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing stated to NPR. "It's seen somewhat like a menu and for everything that's safe, it should be on that menu and available to the woman."
Thinking of utilizing laughing gas during your labor? You might consider using it if you:
1. Have a needle phobia. (The gas is distributed through a mask. No needles involved!)
2. Have anxiety or panic issues. (The gas relaxes your body and nerves, removing you from the pain so you feel like it doesn't matter so much!)
3. Want to eat and drink like normal before the labor.
4. Want to have a natural birth.
5. Have fear regarding side-effects of an epidural.
So what are the side effects? Dizziness, nausea...and that's about it. The side effects, if any, don't last long. Nitrous oxide is relatively safe and has no effects on the health of the baby after it's born (What to Expect).
The gas costs 50 cents an hour, according to Collins, and $25 for the breathing circuit and mask, making it an affordable option for the soon-to-be mom!