Pregnant mothers-to-be recently got another option for labor and delivery in Houston: nitrous oxide – better known as laughing gas.
“It's basically an anti-anxiety gas, which also in turn, actually helps with the pain,” said LuAnne Emanuel, a registered nurse at Memorial Hermann. The hospital’s Woodlands location began offering the option this past June.
“Basically what it does is it helps you relax through the contraction,” said Emanuel. “They start breathing in the nitrous through the contraction and when the contraction is finished they'll take it off their face and within one or two breaths, it's out of your system.”
It's a pretty common practice in parts of Europe. She said the U.S. also offered it — before epidurals became more popular.
“It was actually a common practice in the U.S. from about the 1930s to the 60s,” said Emanuel. “As they got better at doing these epidurals, of course the pain management was going to go in that direction, because it provided more effective pain relief. And so, the use of nitrous just kind of dwindled at that point and time.”
Today, she said the gas is for pain management — not comparing to the pain relief of anesthesia. About 50 women at Memorial Hermann have opted to try it during labor so far. Nearly all eventually got an epidural.