Pass The Laughing Gas! It's Becoming More And More Popular For Labor Pain

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
Photo Credit: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

An increasing number of hospitals are offering laughing gas as a pain management option during childbirth

How would you like the option of laughing your way through your labor?

Hospitals around the country are expanding their menu of pain management options during childbirth – and they’re taking a cue from 19th century doctors and rave-going teenagers to do so. According to NPR, nitrous oxide – which is more commonly known as laughing gas – is being offered at an increasing number of hospitals as an alternative to an epidural and take the edge off the pain of childbirth.

And when we say “take the edge off,” we mean it. Does this woman look anything like you did during labor?

I mean, I could’ve used a laugh.

Until recently it seemed that pregnant women had to choose one of two options: either get an epidural and feel essentially nothing, or endure a potentially grueling and brutally painful labor and delivery that would make you hate everyone around you. But now there’s a third option – laughing gas (otherwise known as that balloon you inhaled in high school in your friend’s basement while his parents were out of town).

Delivered via a breathing mask attached to a mobile cart, laughing gas is the middle-of-the-road option that many women are looking for. The nitrous option lets women inhale the drug through a mask on an as-needed basis, and provides a short euphoric feeling that takes the edge off the pain of contractions.

“When the contractions started getting pretty intense, I was like, wow, this is pretty bad,” Amy Marks, a new mom from Rhode Island, told NPR. “So they brought it in and it really took the edge off.”

Until 2011, when the FDA approved new nitrous oxide equipment for delivery room use, only a couple of hospitals in the United States offered nitrous oxide to women in labor. But today nearly 300 hospitals and birth centers offer nitrous oxide during childbirth. The drug has been used in other parts of the world for years, and many doctors and midwives say it’s safe for both mother and baby, especially in small doses. It doesn’t reduce pain like an epidural, however, but instead creates a sense of relaxation that distracts you from the pain. Not only is nitrous oxide safe, but it’s much cheaper than an epidural and many midwives are in favor of laughing gas as a childbirth pain management option.

“It gives you this euphoria that helps you sort of forget about the pain for a little bit,” Cynthia Voytas, a midwife, told NPR.

Which begs the question, is laughing gas limited to childbirth? Or can we get a prescription to forget about the pain of the teething, threenager and teen years too?

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