Laughing Your Way through Labor

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Undertow851

Saying labor is painful is like describing the Himalayas as “bumpy.” The fact is, although women have endured labor for thousands of years without pain relief, it’s nice to know that it’s there if you need it. Because there are some potential problems with certain pain medications, researchers are constantly trying to discover new ways to put women at ease.

One of the methods being looked into at the Vanderbilt University Medical center is laughing gas. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is one of four locations in the United States who now offer nitrous oxide as an option for pain relief during labor. The other locations include the UC San Francisco Medical Center, University of Washington Hospital, and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Idaho.

The researchers at Vanderbilt suggest that nitrous oxide is a safer option for women who need to have some pain relief during labor, but are wary of traditional pain relievers. The “laughing gas” can help the woman to feel still in control during her labor, but dull some of the associated pain.

Nitrous oxide works not by eliminating pain, but by reducing anxiety. The woman is able to self-administer a blend of oxygen and nitrous. This keeps her from inhaling too much, because if she were to become groggy her hand would drop, allowing the mask to fall, before she were to take in too much.

Laughing gas is often used for labor pain in Europe and the UK. There is actually a strong history of using it in the United States from the 1930s through the 1950s. It fell from popularity after the epidural became more popular.

Still, there isn’t much yet in the way of research on what effects laughing gas might have during labor. There is no evidence to suggest that there is any risk, as the body eliminates nitrous via the lungs rather than the liver.

So, what do you think? Would you prefer laughing gas to an epidural?

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