Laughing Gas for Labor? Why Not?

Every woman goes through labor differently -- some want hardcore pain meds, others breathe through it naturally. I'm not a huge fan of the epidural because of the risks associated with it, but (barring a complication) every woman has a choice on how she wants to go through labor.

But what if there was another option, one that gave women the pain medicine they wanted but without the risks of an epidural? There is! Nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas, is making a comeback in labor and delivery rooms.

And believe it or not, I'm not immediately jumping to hate on it.


Okay, now that that collective gasp from some of my natural birthing readers is past, hear me out.

Remember that I've HAD two epidurals, one that worked (almost too well) and a second that kinked in my spine and failed to deliver any medication after a grueling 30 minutes for insertion. I'm not anti-epidural. I'm anti-denial of serious risk of them though. They shouldn't be taken lightly, though they too often are. 

For women who hit transition and are losing control and find it's "too late" for an epidural, why not a breath or two of nitrous to help them relax? For women who want pain medication but absolutely do not accept the risks of epidurals, why not a safer alternative?

Nitrous can be held on your mouth, allowing you to take tons of breaths until you're totally loopy ... or you can take one or two quick ones and just "come down" a little, without losing concentration, focus, or mental clarity. It also wears off VERY quickly -- no hours of a catheter because you can't walk or bruises on your spine (both my own experiences).

For those who prefer no drugs, obviously nothing changes, and that's good. After all, any med has some potential risks. But for women who would OTHERWISE choose a much more dangerous epidural, often one that pins them on their back, or for those who just want temporarily relief, why not?

If allowing nitrous oxide back in the US as a regular option becomes popular again, as it has been in other places (and a couple of US hospitals) for decades, could we LOWER the number of women who receive epidurals? Reduce complications from pain meds? Help increase initial breastfeeding rates because the baby wouldn't be groggy? Reduce pathological and painful breast engorgement from excessive fluids? Stop falsely labeling babies as not gaining enough weight because we don't account for the fluids?

People are going to get pain meds if they want them. That is a fact. But what if we allowed one that had less complications and didn't need an expensive anesthesiologist to administer? Women could choose their level of relief from "just taking the edge off" to "totally dopey." Laughing gas would wear off quickly enough so that mom could be totally and completely coherent again in a matter of minutes. Why wouldn't we want that?

Do you think allowing nitrous oxide could help reduce use of epidurals?


Image via Danny McL/Flickr

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