Stanford hospital is first in Kentucky to go back to laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, to relieve the pain of childbirth

Photo: Abigail Whitehouse, Interior Journal

Ephraim McDowell Fort Logan Hospital‘s Birthing Spa in Lincoln County is the first in Kentucky to offer nitrous oxide, often called laughing gas, as an alternative pain relief measure for women during childbirth, Abigail Whitehouse reports for The Interior Journal in Stanford.

Dr. James Miller, the unit’s medical director, told Whitehouse that the Birthing Spa aims to provide support and comfort to mothers during labor and that nitrous oxide, which was commonly used for this purpose in the 1950s until epidural anesthesia became popular, provides another option to help decrease anxiety and pain during childbirth.

“We in our unit found, when we started hearing again about the nitrous oxide, that it just fit really well with our philosophy of trying to offer choices to moms,” Miller told Whitehouse.

Miller said that while epidurals continue to be used most often during labor for pain management, the procedure comes with some risk and are expensive.

“Epidurals cost a lot and haven’t shown the benefits. And they changed labor from a low-risk setting to a high-risk setting,” Miller told Whitehouse. “With an epidural, we know that it drops the mom’s blood pressure, so they have to have an IV ahead of time and load up on fluids to try to prevent the drop in blood pressure, and then it can still happen. Then you have to monitor the baby’s heart tones.”

In addition to nitrous oxide, the Birthing Spa also offers alternate options for pain management during childbirth, including: water births, which he said have been proven to lower cost and shorten the length of labor, showers big enough for two with multiple shower heads, a nursing staff trained to “almost function as a doula,” a beautiful garden to walk in, and massage chairs. The unit also offers epidurals or an alternative intravenous medication for pain.

Miller noted that nitrous oxide, which is delivered through a mask, allows laboring mothers control over their pain management because they can put it on and remove it as needed; it can also be used earlier in the process than an epidural.

Miller told Whitehouse, “It’s very fast acting so when the pain is starting to contract, they start breathing the medicine and within seconds it takes effect and then as the pain resolves, they take the mask away and the medicine wears off that quickly too.”

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