Laughing gas during labor growing in popularity

Nitrous oxide becoming more popular locally

BOISE -- There's another option during childbirth that's growing in popularity. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is becoming a growing trend nationwide during deliveries.

Now, both St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus are offering it to patients.

Candice Andrus gave birth to her fourth baby three weeks ago. Andrus tells us she used nitrous oxide and it was her easiest labor experience yet.

"Everything was just so wonderful, really the birth could not have been better because I wanted so much to do it naturally and was able to with the help of the nitrous," said Andrus.

Andrus used the gas from a machine at St. Luke's downtown. The hospital is the fifth nationwide to get the resource back in February of 2014.

Andrus says it was exactly what she needed to get through the most painful moments of childbirth.

"By the time I was feeling a lot of pain and the labor was really intense I said, 'Can I have the nitrous now?' And I held it on my face and I kept it on until my birth," said Andrus.

Nurses showed us how patients self administer the gas, holding up the mask during contractions or in between for as long as they need to.

They say as soon as you remove the mask, the nitrous oxide is immediately out of your system.

Andrus says while it doesn't block the pain, it does help you relax.

"In my mind I knew, OK this isn't as bad as it could be because I am getting help, I'm breathing in help and I think that calmed me," said Andrus.

St. Luke's tells us nitrous oxide has been used since the late 1800s, and was especially popular in the 1930s. Dr. Eric Deutsch says it's also used in about 60 percent of births throughout Europe.

"Nitrous can be quite effective. It's very safe, almost no side effects on mom or baby, and it's reasonably cheap," said Dr. Deutsch.

Recently, it's become in such high demand that St. Luke's is hoping for a second machine.

"Quite popular, I would say nearly 50 percent of my clients utilize nitrous during their labor," said certified nurse midwife Kristi Rhodes.

Rhodes says it's an option - in between all natural childbirth and other stronger medications like an epidural.

"The main way it works is that it decreases anxiety, so if women are nervous or if they're transitioning, it really helps to bring them down a notch and to control the discomfort better," said Rhodes.

Just last month, Saint Alphonsus just got their own nitrous oxide tank.

"It's really great actually to have another avenue to support our patients for pain relief," said nurse Debbie Ketchum.

Ketchum explains that the option had become less popular in the U.S. because of an increased demand for epidurals and concerns about the side effects from a higher dose of nitrous oxide.

"The concentration of the nitrous oxide was very high and there was a lot more side effects because it was administered with other barbiturates and opioids such as morphine, so the side effects to the mom and baby were a lot higher," said Ketchum.

But now, the gas is 50 percent nitrous and 50 percent oxygen, it can quickly be plugged into the wall in a delivery room with safety valves in place. For Andrus, it was exactly what she needed to help introduce Henley to her family.

"It is a new thing that I am really happy about because I think people can have a much better birth than they think they can," said Andrus.

St. Luke's says their epidural rate a decade ago was 85 percent. Now, it's down to about 55 percent, partly because so many more moms are choosing more natural options like nitrous oxide.

St. Luke's says the other big benefit is that you aren't tied down to a hospital bed by IVs during labor, and you can always switch to other stronger medications, at any point, if you need to.

They tell us the only side effects documented are nausea or dizziness if the nitrous oxide is used for a prolonged period.


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