Doctors commonly used nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in labor before the 1950s. The trend then switched to drugs that completely knocked a woman out and then morphed to epidurals. While epidurals do stop the pain of childbirth, they can make it to difficult for patients to move around and can also prolong the second stage of labor.
Now the trend is switching back to nitrous oxide. Hundreds of hospitals in the US offer this option to their patients in labor. While nitrous oxide does not completely remove the pain of labor, it induces euphoria that allows the women to forget about the pain for a bit.
With nitrous oxide, women exert more control over the birthing process. They use a mask to inhale the gas as they need it and time their usage with the contractions.
Some prominent nurse midwives advocate bringing back nitrous oxide as one of the options available for pain relief during labor. Dr. Michelle Collins, the Director of Nurse Midwifery and a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing advocates doing just that. Dr. Collins envisions her efforts as doing what midwives have always done: advocate for women to exert more control over their experience of giving birth.
Strong data shows that nitrous oxide is safe, since it has continued to be used in Europe. The gas leaves the woman’s body in seconds according to epidemiologist and retired nurse midwife Judith Rooks—another prominent leader in this movement.
These nurse midwives feel that women should have a range of options available to them. Advocates feel that women should be able to choose to have an epidural, give birth without any pain medication, or use nitrous oxide.
As women become more informed, they can choose from a variety of options, and that is a good thing.