Why Pregnant Women Should Ask Their Doctors About Laughing Gas

mom with newborn We are faced with choices every day. Let's take coffee for example. We can choose decaf or caffeinated. We choose the brand of coffee we drink. We have a choice on what size coffee we want and what kind of mug we want to drink it out of. We have various choices on what to put in our coffee (milk, soy, nothing -- also what brand, what content of milk fat), and how much or how little of whatever it is we like in our coffee we put in. We can basically control how we want our coffee.

But when it comes to birth, too much is out of our control because of hospital control. Should we, as mothers, be more in control of what we need and how much pain relief we need? We need more options when it comes to pain relief during labor. It shouldn't just be epidural or nothing. Alternatives shouldn't be fentanyl or morphine. We need nitrous oxide -- yes, laughing gas -- in the labor rooms.


The Women and Children's Health Services at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, New Hampshire, was the first hospital to offer nitrous for pain relief for laboring moms. Elizabeth Kester, a registered nurse there, said, "If a woman uses nitrous, she'll say, 'I feel pain,’ but she'll say, 'I just don't really care.'" This is the kind of pain relief that allows us to manage the pain without numbing the rest of us.

Many natural birth advocates welcome nitrous and how it allows moms to stay in control and alert and able to get through the contractions without fear and discomfort. I feel it actually allows women to feel more in control, therefore more confident in their ability to birth, essentially reducing the fear, reducing the pain. Nitrous is given through a mouthpiece or a facemask just before a contraction. It is breathed in and then out. It takes effect in 30 seconds to a minute. Once the mask is off and the laboring mom takes a few breaths of air, the nitrous is out of her system. It's pain relief we control. And the experts say it's safe when used properly. Nurse Kester also said:

If a woman doesn’t like the way she's feeling with the gas, she can just take off the mask and it's gone. With narcotics or an epidural if a woman doesn't like the way it feels, she kind of out of luck.

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We should start asking about this. We should demand this option. One of the reasons it may not be offered everywhere is because it's cheap. It doesn't cost anywhere near as much as an epidural and there are no side effects. Birth is a business -- we all tend to forget. Hospitals want to make money. Let's hope more hospitals start putting women's needs first. We deserve options. We deserve to be in control of our bodies and our birth when we are able. Choices. We deserve it during labor and when we have our coffee.

Would you (or have you) try nitrous during labor?


Image via George Ruiz/Flickr

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