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Nitrous Oxide Re-Emerges As A Pain-Relief Option For Women In Labor

By Kristin Espeland Gourlay
Kaiser Health News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Until 2011, only a couple of hospitals in the United States offered nitrous oxide to women in labor. Today, it’s in the hundreds. This article takes a look at the pros and cons of the pain-relief option.

Kaiser Health News

Since the mid-1800s, nitrous oxide been used for pain relief, but it’s usually associated with a visit to the dentist.

In the early 20th century, women used it to ease the pain of labor, but its use declined in favor of more potent analgesia.

Now, some midwives are helping to revive its use in the U.S.

One hospital in Rhode Island, South County Hospital in North Kingstown, has just added nitrous oxide (also known as “nitrous oxide”) to its list of pain-relief options for labor.

Amy Marks jumped at the chance to use it because she wanted to avoid an epidural, an injection in the fluid around the spinal cord that blocks feeling below the waist. The day after she gave birth, she sat with her son, Ethan Thomas, snug in the crook of her arm.

“When the contractions started getting pretty intense, I was like, ‘wow, this is pretty bad,'” she said. “So they brought it in and it really took the edge off.”

But is taking “the edge off” enough relief for labor pain? It was for Marks, once she got the hang of breathing the gas through a face mask, timing it to anticipate the peak pain of a contraction by 15 to 30 seconds.

“You’re going through the contraction, you’re breathing in and out, maybe do five, six breaths, get to the peak of the contraction, and I kind of didn’t really need any more, I could bear the rest of the contraction,” she said. “I was giggly. But only for like 15 to 30 seconds.”

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