Nitrous Oxide: "Laughing" Through Labor
the MPR take:
Why do only 1% of hospitals in the United States offer nitrous oxide during labor, while it is commonly used in Australia, Canada, Finland, and the United Kingdom? Although it is commonly used in dental offices as an anesthetic at concentrations of up to 70% (blended with oxygen), in labor it is fixed at 50% and considered to be an analgesic. Nitrous is considered to be relatively safe for the mother and baby since it is filtered through the lungs instead of the liver, unlike narcotics. Although the gas passes through the placenta, it vanishes as soon as the mother takes a breath of air from the room. Some speculate that the power of epidurals in providing strong pain relief have made it a more popular option; other concerns have arisen over administration of the nitrous and the cost associated with nitrous as an add-on cost in medical facilities.
Though it's popular in other countries, the U.S. has historically shied away from giving nitrous oxide to women in labor. "It's just never been a part of the regular regimen used in this country," says Bill Camann, an obstetric anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Medical Center in Boston, which will offer nitrous for labor this year.
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