Labor pain is an experience that most women would prefer to avoid and who can blame them? No one likes pain but unfortunately those cramp-like symptoms are a signal that a new life is about to enter the world which is both exciting and inspiring.
It has been scientifically proven that the childbirth experience is much smoother, faster and less complicated when a woman is not in pain although her uterus is contracting. The treatment of labor pain is therefore very important. The gold standard of treatment for labor pain is to give a woman an epidural (or medicine in her back) as long as the baby does not need to be delivered as an emergency. An epidural prevents pain because it blocks the pain signals that come from the spine cord and is a very effective method when performed by skilled hands.
However, there’s a “new” trend of using nitrous oxide emerging in birth centers for women who would prefer not to have an epidural. Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas” is commonly used in dental offices for pain relief. It is also used in Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and Australia for labor pain relief.
In 2012, the FDA approved equipment that allows nitrous oxide to be used for labor pain management in the U.S. Actually; the use of gas for labor relief can be traced back to the 19th century when a dentist (Dr. William Morton) introduced ether for pain relief and the following year, an obstetrician (Dr. James Young Simpson) used chloroform during childbirth. Queen Victoria allegedly used chloroform for the delivery of her 8th child.
Is nitrous oxide safe for the delivery of our 21st century’s babies? Here’s what we know so far based on government studies:
- 54% of women who used nitrous oxide reported pain relief as compared to 94% of women who had an epidural
- Nitrous oxide does not appear to affect Apgar scores of babies at birth
Who shouldn’t receive it?
- Women with asthma, emphysema or those with severe lung problems
- Women with Vitamin B 12 deficiencies