Nitrous Oxide vs Epidural for Treatment for Labor Pain
Laughing Gas is becoming a popular request in delivery rooms, rather than anesthesia. Laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide, is a greenhouse gas that is used for treatment of pain in dentist offices all over the world. In many areas of Europe and Canada, nitrous is also used in the delivery room, in place of an epidural, to take the edge off of the pain while leaving the mother in control of her body. Until recently, only a few hospitals in the U.S. offered this treatment, However is now a quickly growing market, as more and more expecting mothers discover the many benefits of this treatment for labor pain.
Nitrous works differently than painkillers. It doesn’t really take the pain away; rather, it makes the patient distance themselves from the pain. In the case of using nitrous during labor, doctors allow the patient to self-administer the dosage. This makes sure that the patient is comfortable with the pain levels, but doesn’t allow the patient to overdo it. If the patient does nod off, her hand will drop the mask, and the gas will wear off within a few breaths of air.
Using nitrous as a treatment for labor pain allows for productive pushing, without the risk of tearing. Epidurals make the patient more prone to tearing, as the pelvic region is so numb, it is easy to push too hard or too long. The highest benefit is that it can be administered at any time during the labor and delivery process.
More Benefits of Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide also offers minimal side-effects.The most common side effects are drowsiness and/or nausea, typically resulting from the heavy concentration of the gas. This can be easily fixed by increasing the oxygen. There is a risk of loss of consciousness, however, self-administration helps to prevent that risk. Additionally, there is no harm to the baby, and it doesn’t directly lead to complications that require further treatment.
This treatment is incredibly cost effective as well. It is much less expensive than the combination of anesthesiologist fees, medications, needles and catheters. No huge companies stand to profit much from the gas either, so for those anti-pharmaceutical fans out there, here’s one of the few that has surprisingly stayed under the radar, and has avoided being over-controlled.
Nitrous Oxide and Epidural Can be Used Together
While some women may choose to use nitrous instead of an epidural, some women choose to use both together. They play rather nicely together, and together can create a very pleasant birthing experience. Many women use the nitrous as their contractions climb in severity, then switch to an epidural later when they are far enough along. In some other cases, the epidural may wear off prematurely, or not work as effectively as it is supposed to, and the patient might supplement with nitrous during delivery. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Even though nitrous oxide is currently already being used by many hospitals in the U.S., it still yet to be thoroughly evaluated for use during labor, and is not recognized by many medical boards as a recommended treatment.
No drug is without warnings or dangers, and every situation is different. If you are considering nitrous during your birthing experience, speak with your doctor about risks and availability.
For information on managing pain during pregnancy, read: Pregnancy Pains: Dealing with the Not-so-Awesome Stuff.