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Laughing Gas Instead of Epidurals for Labor Pain Is Becoming a Thing

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Most of us associate laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide, with trips to the dentist. But according to a new report from NPR, this formerly outdated form of pain relief is gaining popularity among pregnant women who want an alternative to the traditional epidural to manage labor pains.

Back in the the pre-epidural days, laughing gas was commonly used to help manage pain during labor, but once the stronger alternative hit the market, it pretty much never got used again. While half of all women in labor opt for an epidural nowadays, there's a growing movement among pregnant women to give birth "naturally"—without pain medication.

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In most cases, there are no negative effects to using an epidural, but some people believe having one can stall labor or make your baby sleepier upon delivery than they would've been without pain meds entering their bloodstream.

For those women, laughing gas is a much less risky alternative. While it's not near as potent as an epidural, one midwife tells NPR it "gives you this euphoria that helps you sort of forget about the pain for a little bit."

And the most appealing part for many moms-to-be—it leaves your body within seconds, ensuring very little risk to your baby. According to retired midwife and epidemiologist Judith Rooks, "It does pass the placenta and go into the fetal circulation, but as soon as the baby takes a breath or two, it's gone."

And thanks in no small part to a small group of advocating midwives, hundreds of U.S. hospitals are now offering nitrous oxide on their labor and delivery "menu" of pain relief tools. Michelle Collins, a professor and director of nurse midwifery at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, says that this expansion of pain management options is a good thing.

"Now women are more informed, and they're demanding that their voices be heard, which is a really great thing in my book."

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