I came across this article and thought ladies may be interested : the UK and NZ have been using entonox/nitronox for quite some decades and it is a good form of pain relief. It is news to me that it is not used in the United States, ah, I see that it is used in Canada. Any US midwives reading this blog?
Laughing gas for ladies in labor
Apparently, nitrous oxide—the stuff they give you at the dentist—is a safe anesthetic to use on women who are giving birth. Pretty surprising to this American. I've always generally had the impression that gas was dangerous for pregnant ladies—in fact, I've had dentists who wouldn't let pregnant nurses administer nitrous to me. But the case made in this Slate article by Libby Copeland sounds well-supported by evidence. Even more interesting, none of this is likely to raise eyebrows in Europe, where lots of women have used nitrous during labor for decades.
So why isn't this normal in America? From the sounds of things, it's a combination of a difference in mid-century medical culture, and some really bad timing.
Copeland points out that, unlike an epidural, nitrous doesn't so much eliminate pain as make you not really care that pain is happening. That rings true for me. Personally, I credit nitrous with getting me over a paralyzing fear of needles. Back in junior high, I once panicked and tried to run during an MMR booster, and nearly got the needle broken off in my arm. But in college, when I faced my first cavities, my then-dentist suggested nitrous. I still felt the shot. But I didn't feel the terror, and the nitrous made the pain of the shot seem like not such a big deal. Today, when I get a cavity, I don't even use the gas any more. I'm still probably more anxious about shots than the average person, but the gas really helped me break down the mental block I had, so I can actually get the medical treatment I need now.
I doubt shots are really a good metaphor for the pain of childbirth, but the pain of childbirth certainly is scary to a lot of women. If you don't think you want an epidural, but do want something to take the edge off, nitrous does sound like it could be a nice third option—somewhere between toughing it out and using effective painkillers that have the unfortunate side-effect of preventing you from walking around or peeing on your own. Women are different, and have different needs. It would be nice if they had more than two ways to deal with labor pain.