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Laugh Your Way Through Labor

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Since the mid-1800s, Nitrous Oxide or “laughing gas” as it is more commonly referred to, has been used for pain relief, but most associated with a visit to the dentist. However, in the early 20th century, women in the United States often used “laughing gas” to take the edge off of labor pain before its use declined in favor of more potent analgesia such as epidurals.

Willamette Valley Medical Center is excited to be on the forefront of reviving this option for woman to consider when having her baby.

“Women want options and to be in control of their childbirth experience,” said Kay Case, MD, OBGYN at Willamette Valley Medical Center (WVMC). She continued saying “For some women, the epidural is going to be their first choice and for others they want to be unmedicated and have nothing at all. For still other women, nitrous oxide is a viable option.”

Nitrous oxide (mixed 50/50 with oxygen) provides the woman controlled, self-administered analgesia and is safe for both mother and baby.  Although it doesn’t relieve the pain of the contractions, it gives the mother the feeling of euphoria that helps them to forget about it. The laughing gas is brought in on a cart to the bedside of the mother where she is given a mask connected by a hose to the nitrous oxide tank. Upon feeling the contraction, the mother holds up the mask to her face and inhales. When she has reached her limit, her body will naturally relax and her hand with the attached mask will drop ending the administration. It is short acting with clearance beginning seconds after inhalation ends. This gives the mother complete control over her pain relief.

Laughing gas can work very well for women desiring a more natural birth experience and for those wishing to avoid or delay an epidural. There is no loss of consciousness, sensation, or control often affiliated with epidurals. A mother who elected to use laughing gas said, “You can still feel everything, but it took the edge off those really big contractions and kept me feeling more alert and relaxed than I did in my first childbirth experience.” In addition to being a great pain relief option, it is helpful in decreasing anxiety and calming nerves.

Laughing gas can be used throughout each contraction and can also be used after delivery if a repair or other procedure is necessary. Using laughing gas does not preclude changing to an epidural if more relief becomes necessary or desirable. “We are excited to offer our patients another option for pain control in labor,” said Heather Abe, DO, MPH. “Nitrous is offered at some of the larger hospitals in Portland and we’re now excited to offer it at WVMC as well.”

The experience of labor pain differs among women, and the response to pain is highly individual. The goal of the labor team at Willamette Valley Medical Center is to help each woman have the birth experience she desires.

For more information about the WVMC Birthing Center or to schedule a tour please contact the department manager, Amy Thompson at 503-435-6400 or go to our website www.WillametteValleyMedical.com/our-services/birthing-center