Laughing gas a growing trend to ease labor pains

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Laughing gas for labor?  It is becoming part of the baby delivery experience for more couples, including here in Richmond.

Samantha Corfield is about to be a first-time mom.  She and her husband cannot wait to welcome their baby boy.

“The nursery is ready, and we just put the car seat in.  Now we just need him,” says Corfield.

She is also a nurse who has been paying close attention to the rise in women using nitrous oxide in labor.  It is commonly called laughing gas, a staple in the dentist’s office for years.  Some of Corfield’s friends recently masked their labor pains this way, so now she is learning what to do when the time comes.

“What you’ll do is take the mask and hold it to your face,” Dr. Keith Berkle of Virginia Women’s Center shows Corfield how she will use the machine.

“I like the idea of not using an epidural if possible and doing more of a natural birth but having something to take the edge off,” Corfield explains why laughing gas appeals to her.

“It takes the edge off of her pain, but she is fully in control,” adds Dr. Berkle. “She is able to feel all of the sensations she needs to feel to be in control of her labor and her pushing effort and all of that sort of thing.”

Dr. Berkle says nitrous oxide for labor arrived in Richmond about a year ago and is part of the push for safe pain control alternatives.  “Obstetrics is turning into a choose your own adventure sort of game, and nitrous oxide is really facilitating that for lots of women.”

It has been a go-to drug at birthing centers in Europe and Canada for decades. In this country, though, nitrous oxide went by the wayside when narcotics and epidurals became more mainstream.  Moms-to-be breathe in the laughing gas each time they have a contraction.  It wears off when they stop.

“Nitrous oxide is a nice middle of the road option between the full on numbing effects of an epidural and no pain control at all,” says Dr. Berkle.

“I can take as much of it as I want and as little as I want, which I like,” Corfield says.

Because laughing gas wears off so quickly, women can choose another option if it is not working for them.  Dr. Berkle says almost everyone is a candidate except those with very low blood pressure, patients with Vitamin B12 deficiencies or if there are issues with the pregnancy.

As far as price, it differs for each case, but a recent ABC News report says it is becoming so attractive nationwide because it can cost less than $100 while an epidural can run up into the thousands.

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