Laughing gas now being offered during labor

MINNEAPOLIS - Laughing gas is making a comeback for women giving birth.

It allows a mom to still feel the pain of childbirth but takes the edge off. Many other developed countries have been offering it to mothers in labor for decades.

Claire Jones of Brooklyn Center gave birth to her sixth child, Ruth, six days ago.

Jones had epidurals during the births of her first three children and then chose natural birth for the rest. But labor with Ruth was very long so when she felt like she couldn't go on, her midwife said, 'Well, let's try nitrous' and I said, 'Yes!'"

She gave birth to Ruth at the Minnesota Birth Center which just started offering nitrous oxide (laughing gas) at the beginning of January.

"A third of our women have opted to use it," said Clinical Director Kerry Dixon.

"Not only does it have pain management properties, it also has this anti-anxiety component," she explained.

While it doesn't remove all the pain, like an epidural or narcotics, Dixon said nitrous oxide takes the edge off, it's safe and is not as complicated. Instead of needing someone to administer and monitor an epidural, the laboring mother administers nitrous oxide herself and when she's done, "It leaves her system immediately," said Dixon.

It's also cheaper.

According to Dixion, an epidural can cost $1,000 to $3,000, while nitrous oxide is less than $100.

"I saw nitrous oxide being used about 70 percent of the time and I was completely surprised at how effective it was and how it enhanced the labor process," said Dixon, who was once a midwife in New Zealand.

Dixon said it was used in the United States in the 19th century, but it was often mixed with other gasses for sedation. That was a century ago.

If other countries have been using nitrous oxide to take the edge off labor pain for decades, why hasn't it been offered to women in the U.S. until now? Dixon said new nitrous oxide delivery equipment was approved by the FDA in 2011 plus she said it's possible that there has been concern over the years that hospitals would "lose revenue if people have fewer epidurals."

The Minnesota Birth Center is among the first birth centers and hospitals to offer nitrous oxide in Minnesota, but Dixon believes many more will offer it soon because it fills a gap in pain management.

Jones said it definitely made her natural birth easier.

"The nitrous is such a happy middle place," she said.


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