A new option for pain relief in labor is gaining popularity in the United States -- nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. At least five Charlotte-area hospitals now offer it during childbirth.
As of this month, a woman in labor at Atrium’s Carolinas Medical Center can have a tank of nitrous oxide wheeled to her room. Then, she can press a plastic mask to her face and inhale a mixture of the gas and oxygen. It will slightly sedate her, reduce anxiety and provide pain relief, said Atrium OB/GYN Leslie Hansen Lindner.
“It is something that you can use during labor and you can use after labor,” Hansen Lindner said. “You can use it while pushing -- really any phase of labor that is painful or difficult.”
The gas is commonly used for births in Great Britain, Canada and Australia and was used frequently in the United States until the 1970s, when epidural anesthesia became more popular.
Michelle Collins, a nurse midwife and associate dean at the College of Nursing at Rush University in Chicago, said laughing gas is having a resurgence in part because it allows women to be more mobile and empowered during labor.
“If they want to breathe in the nitrous with every contraction, so be it," Collins said. "If they want to only pick it up every five minutes and take a breath, so be it. If they want to breathe with the contraction and in between contractions, that’s good for them. So every woman develops their own rhythm.”
According to Collins, nitrous is now offered in at least 1,000 hospitals and 100 birthing centers nationwide. In addition to Carolinas Medical Center, the gas is available at Atrium Health Pineville and five of Novant’s North Carolina hospitals.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated nitrous oxide is available at all of Novant's North Carolina hospitals.
For more on nitrous oxide use in North Carolina, see this story on North Carolina Health News.
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