nitrous oxide


Laughing Gas For Labor Pain May Be Regaining Popularity In U.S.

ABC News reports a resurgence in the use of laughing gas for labor pain. (Not to toot our own horn, but we reported this back in 2010 here at CommonHealth and did a podcast on it in 2013.)

ABC suggests the practice may be gaining popularity since 2011, when “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved new nitrous oxide equipment for delivery room use.”

Quoting Dr. William Camann, director of obstetric anesthetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the ABC piece continues:

labor pain

“Maybe 10 years ago, less than five or 10 hospitals used it [for women in labor],” Camann…told ABC News. “Now, probably several hundred. It’s really exploded. Many more hospitals are expressing interest.”

He added the gas popular in dentists’ offices has an “extraordinary safety record” in delivery rooms outside the U.S. But more studies are needed to confirm its safety, other doctors say. Continue reading

AP: Laughing Gas For Labor Pain Coming To Dartmouth

Back in September, we reported a small but growing interest in the U.S. in using laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, to ease labor pain during childbirth.

Now, an AP dispatch says that Dartmouth-Hitchcok Medical Center will begin offering nitrous oxide as an alternative pain-killer for laboring women.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where officials plan to order two machines, nurse midwife Suzanne Serat estimated that 10-20 percent of her patients might try nitrous oxide.

“We have a number of people who don’t want to feel the pain of labor, and nitrous oxide would not be a good option for them. They really need an epidural, and that’s perfect for them,” she said. “Then we have a number of people who are going to wait and see what happens, and when they’re in labor, decide they’d like something and then the only option for them is an epidural but they don’t need something that strong. So they would choose to use something in the middle, but we just don’t have anything in the middle.”

The hospital hopes to begin offering nitrous oxide for labor by summer. In the meantime, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is reviewing the effectiveness and safety of nitrous oxide compared to other pain relief methods.

As we mentioned in our earlier post, nitrous oxide (which is basically the same thing you get at the dentist’s office) doesn’t have the super-pain-relieving magic of an epidural. But, it’s been found to be safe and effective: and it definitely take the edge off, according to women who have used it, to the point that some laboring moms may never end up needing an injection of anesthesia in their spine.

[Nitrous] offers something closer to an elixir of dulled pain tempered by nonchalance, says William Camann, chief of obstetric anesthesia at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and the co-author of the book “Easy Labor.” “The pain may still exist for some women but the gas may create a feeling of, ‘Painful contraction? Who cares?’”

Right now, nitrous oxide is used by about 50% of laboring women the United Kingdom; 60% in Finland and widely across Canada, according to a published review. But it’s available only in two U.S. hospitals.

Apparently, that may be changing.

U.S. Health Agency To Review Effectiveness Of Laughing Gas For Labor Pain

A federal agency seeks public comment for a review of nitrous oxide for labor pain relief

It appears that the federal government is now interested in exploring the effectiveness of laughing gas for labor pain relief, the subject of a CommonHealth post in September.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) is seeking public comment in reviewing the comparative effectiveness of nitrous oxide (basically, the same laughing gas your dentist uses) as a way to manage labor pain. This is an option available to women in most developed countries, but it is only used in a handful of hospitals in the U.S.

Here’s Our Bodies Our Blog, writing about the agency’s process:

Recently, AHRQ has become more active in soliciting public input to the review process, and today they posted for public comment the key questions and background materials for a review that will be conducted soon, Comparative Effectiveness of Nitrous Oxide for the Management of Labor Pain.

Nitrous oxide is commonly available to women for labor pain relief in many other countries, but is almost completely unavailable as an option for women in the United States. The comparative effectiveness review on this topic will examine the available evidence and look at specific questions such as its effectiveness, adverse effects, effects on women’s satisfaction with their birth experience and pain management, and health system factors influencing whether nitrous oxide is available to women who would like that option.

The public is invited to comment on this list of key questions to be addressed by the review, and can also review some background information describing the current use of nitrous oxide in the United States, the nature of the available literature, and the outcomes the review will examine.

Public comment is being accepted through December 8, 2010 via this online form; the site also provides a document to download and submit by mail if you prefer.