Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Tuesday became the first labor and delivery center in Boston to offer nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” to women in labor. Women inhale at the beginning of every contraction to take the edge off their pain and relax a bit. It takes about 30 seconds to work, and wears off about 30 seconds after the mask is removed, said Dr. Bill Camann, director of obstetric anesthesia at the Brigham.
“Patients control it themselves and take as many breaths as they like,” he said; usually, they remove the mask in between contractions.
For unknown reasons, laughing gas for labor pain fell out of favor in this country several decades ago. Only a handful of hospitals including the University of Washington in Seattle have continued to use it through the years, but it’s been used routinely in other countries, including Great Britain, Australia, and Canada.
Camann said his colleagues at other Boston hospitals have been asking him about it and seem eager to try it. Over the past few weeks, the Brigham has used the gas on about seven or eight patients, he estimated, before officially implementing it as an option for routine clinical care today.
“It’s about giving people more choices and flexibility,” he said, “one more item on the menu of options for labor pain.”
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