OK, expecting mamas. Let’s start with the obvious: Having a baby hurts.
Ready for the good news? There are now more choices than ever to help you have the labor and delivery experience that you want, whether that’s sans medication, with the sweet relief of an I-can’t-feel-a-thing-when-I’m-with-you epidural or something in between.
One such pain-management option that’s generating lots of buzz in the United States is nitrous oxide. That’s right: laughing gas.
While this might make you think of your dentist preparing to yank out your wisdom teeth — uh, no thanks — you can rest easy. Birthing mothers have relied on the odorless, colorless gas to get through childbirth since the 1800s. In fact, mothers-to-be in places like Great Britain, Finland, Canada and Australia have used laughing gas for decades.
It’s taken U.S. hospitals and birthing centers a while to catch up. Some 10 years ago, only a handful allowed nitrous oxide for pain management during childbirth. Now hundreds nationwide offer it for labor and delivery. In the area, this includes UW Medical Center – Northwest in Seattle and Valley Medical Center in Renton.
So, what does nitrous oxide do, exactly, to help you get through those tough contractions? Why would you choose it over, say, an epidural? Is it safe for the baby? Can it really help that much?
We took these pressing questions to Mary Lou Kopas, chief of midwifery at the Childbirth Center at UW Medical Center – Northwest, for the lowdown on laughing gas.
Nitrous oxide will make you feel better — but not in the LOL way
Despite the nickname, laughing gas probably isn’t going to make you ROFL during a birth and delivery situation. That’s because, unlike at the dentist, you control the amount you receive at any given time, and the gas is offered in lower concentrations — usually a 50-50 mixture of oxygen to nitrous oxide.
What it does do is help you relax and tolerate the pain a little better.
“With nitrous oxide, it takes the edge off or it makes you care less,” Kopas says. “It has an anti-anxiety effect, and when things are moving really fast and things are intense, it helps birthing mothers cope.”
An added bonus? You’ll start to feel relief almost immediately.
When requested, nitrous oxide is usually wheeled into your delivery room in a tank that looks sort of like a vacuum cleaner. You’re in control the entire time. All you have to do is hold the mask over your nose and mouth, take a few breaths about 30 seconds before a contraction and — ta-da! — that vicelike grip around your middle may feel a whole lot more bearable.
There are pros and cons to laughing gas
While nitrous oxide can certainly make you feel better during labor, it won’t completely block the pain like an epidural.