Laughing gas returning
Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 8:01 pm
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — 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.
Lori Rowell, due to give birth to her second child in June, is intrigued by the option.
“I would definitely think about it, and read about and talk to my doctor about it,” said Rowell, 36, of Concord. “It is nice to know that it doesn’t affect the baby, because that’s what scares me about an epidural.”
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
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.
Published in The Messenger 2.16.11