Laughing gas for childbirth? More Chicago hospitals offering nitrous oxide to women in labor. – Chicago Tribune
Nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, has long been used in dental procedures as a way of relaxing patients.
Now it’s making a comeback for use in childbirth, bringing back an option that was offered decades ago but waned in popularity as more women opted for epidurals.
Rush University Medical Center plans to start offering nitrous oxide soon, and Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital also hopes to add it in coming months. University of Illinois Hospital and NorthShore University HealthSystem are considering adding it.
Both Swedish Covenant and Saint Anthony Hospital, on the city’s west side, began offering the gas within the last two years.
When Laura Moldovan arrived at Swedish Covenant to give birth to her second child earlier this month, she didn’t plan to take anything for the pain.
But she also didn’t plan to be induced, spend 12 hours in labor or struggle to push out a 9-pound baby.
“At the last minute, they said, ‘Have you heard about laughing gas?’” she said. “I was like, ‘No, but I’ll take it.’”
Staff at Swedish Covenant Hospital gave her a mask that she held over her face. She inhaled a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen with each contraction. The gas didn’t eliminate the gripping pain, but it took the edge off.
“It helped tremendously,” said Moldovan, of Niles. “I don’t know how I would have handled the last two hours of contractions without it.”
The American College of Nurse-Midwives calls the odorless, tasteless gas a “reasonably safe” option for women in childbirth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn’t have an official position on its use during labor. However, the organization notes that it has long been in use in other countries and has benefits that include quickly leaving a woman’s system when she stops using it, rapidly leaving a baby’s system once the baby is born and starts breathing, and it doesn’t require additional monitoring. Nitrous oxide’s long-term effects on babies delivered to mothers using the gas haven’t been extensively studied.
Unlike epidurals, which involves the delivery of medication through the back, inhaling the gas doesn’t eliminate pain, but instead helps a patient within seconds to relax and/or disassociate from the aches of contractions. It can make some women feel dizzy or nauseated, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Nitrous oxide does cross the placenta, but is quickly eliminated once the baby begins breathing, according to studies.
One of the largest manufacturers of nitrous oxide equipment for labor and delivery, Porter Instrument, a unit of Parker Hannifin Corp., has nitrous oxide delivery systems in about 1,000 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers, specifically for use in childbirth, up from just a handful of hospitals in 2013, said sales manager Mike Civitello.
Laughing gas is also relatively cheap – a fact that doesn’t hurt as cash-strapped hospitals continuously look for ways to attract patients and improve their bottom lines. Swedish Covenant paid about $11,500 for two of the systems, including training costs, said Allison Manko, a nurse midwife with Swedish Covenant Health. Cylinders of the gas cost the hospital about $12 each and can be used for multiple patients, she said.
That’s a pittance in the world of hospitals. Insurance companies typically don’t cover the gas, Citivello said. He said many hospitals don’t charge women out-of-pocket for the gas, instead using it as more of a marketing tool to attract patients.
“This is such an effective, wonderful option for women for such a cheap cost,” said Manko, who estimated about one-fourth of the women who give birth at Swedish try it.
That includes women, like Moldovan, who don’t want to use epidurals or medication but want a little help with pain late in labor. It also includes women who want to delay when an epidural is administered. Labor epidurals typically numb women from the waist-down, confining them to bed.
Sometimes women who’ve already given birth use nitrous oxide to dull the feeling of getting lacerations repaired post-delivery, said Dr. Michele Bucciero, Saint Anthony director of perinatal services.
Bucciero estimates that at least 40 percent of Saint Anthony’s obstetrical patients use the gas at some point during their labor.
Wendy Brito, of Little Village, said the gas helped her relax as she labored with her first child at Saint Anthony in November.
She knew she didn’t want an epidural, after hearing about a family member’s complications from one. But as a first-time mom, she also worried about whether she’d be able to stand the pain of childbirth. Her doula told her about nitrous oxide.
She said her 11-hour labor was still very painful. But the gas distracted her, and she liked that it didn’t make her feel light-headed or affect her baby girl.
“When I would get contractions, and I kept breathing through the gas mask, I felt my body relaxing,” she said.
At Prentice, some women have asked if the gas is available, said Dr. Nicole Higgins, section chief and medical director of obstetric anesthesiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Until now, she’s had to say no, though she hopes it will be approved for use within the next six months.
Word of the gas has spread quickly in recent years as moms and moms-to-be swap information in mom groups on social media, she said.
Her own mother used nitrous oxide to deliver her in the early 1970s.
“She said, ‘(They) slapped something on my face and everything was good, and then they put you in my arms,’” Higgins said.
This content was originally published here.