BREATHE IN: Laughing gas makes comeback for soon-to-be mothers

Nitrous oxide, also known as Laughing Gas, is reportedly making a comeback in the delivery room.

The gas is helping women cope during labor, as an alternative to powerful opioid painkillers.

"I definitely think it's a good alternative just to take off that edge of that pain that you experience when you're having a child," said Kayce Kahl. She gave birth to her baby girl, Juliana, in July at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix.

Kahl's birth plan called for an epidural, but because of a blood clot, she was unable to get one.

"When I found out I wasn't going to have the epidural, I was scared," said Kahl. "I just knew I was going to have to experience a lot of pain."

Laughing gas, however, Helped Kahl get through that pain. The gas is typically used during a dental procedure, and it is making a resurgence for child birth in the United States.

"Before my water broke, I would say I was on a scale of a 3 out of 10, and then once my water broke, I feel like those contractions, it went to like 100, it was off the charts," Kahl recalled. "After I had the nitrous oxide, I would say that dropped a little bit. I felt like I was able to breathe. When I didn't have the nitrous oxide, I was holding my breath a lot. I wasn't able to control my breathing like I did with the nitrous oxide."

Banner has been offering the gas as an alternative to IV narcotics or an epidural for several months. Clinical Nurse Specialist Christina Tussey said it's a great option for women looking for a more natural birth, or those who can't have other medications.

"This is a great option because your baby, if you get IV narcotics, unfortunately with any opiate or narcotic, you get sleepy and we don't want the baby to be sleepy when it's time to start nursing or breast-feeding, so we wanted those babies to be awake and alert," said Tussey. "So, this is really nice because nitrous oxide doesn't cause the baby to have any sedation at all. It's very safe for mom, very safe for the baby. What's nice about the nitrous is I can receive it at 8, 9, 10 centimeters. I can be receiving it when I'm about to have the baby, when I'm pushing and it won't affect the baby. Whereas, if the IV medication is being used later in the labor, then the baby is affected."         

Tussey said the gas is easy to administer, and can be started in less than a minute.

"Within 30 seconds of her holding this on her face, she just inhales it normally, how you would just normally breathe," said Tussey. "The fixed amount, it's 50 percent oxygen and 50 percent nitrous, and it just goes through the tubing and she receives it through the mask. It has no taste and no odor."

The machine is kept next to the mothers bed the entire time, and she's in full control. She can use as much or as little as she chooses.

"In between the contractions, I took the mask off and caught my breath a little bit," Kahl recounted. "Once I knew a contraction was coming again, I'd put the nitrous oxide back on and I started breathing through it. Then once the contraction stopped, I'd take it off again."

Tussey said many women are choosing this option to manage pain, especially with the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. Laughing gas has also been used for post birth surgeries.

"If you can avoid them, and this is an option that will give you almost the similar relief, I think it would be great to try it," said Tussey. "If you tried it and didn't like it, OK, we can move on to something different."  

For some women, an epidural is going to be their number one choice. For others, however, nitrous oxide will be the best choice. In the end, it's up to the mother what she wants to use -- or not use -- to take the edge off.

"I do think without the nitrous oxide, that the experience would have been much more painful than it was with the nitrous oxide," said Kahl. "It helped me get through the labor."

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