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A New Way to Relax During Labor

The state's oldest birthing center now offers nitrous oxide to help women in labor relax.

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Laughter might be considered the best medicine, but in September, when Englewood’s Mountain Midwifery Center became the first facility in the state to provide nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to women in labor, giggles weren’t the goal. Rather, the tasteless, odorless gas works as a stress reliever for those who have chosen to give birth in an anesthesia-free setting. “Nitrous oxide does not take the pain away like an epidural,” says Aubre Tompkins, the center’s clinical director. “[But] it can relax some women enough to help them cope with the pain.” Once commonly used in the United States, nitrous oxide was largely forgotten after epidurals became popular in the 1970s. However, it’s still legal and, unlike localized anesthesia, aligns with Mountain Midwifery’s philosophy of having soon-to-be moms maintain freedom of movement during childbirth. (It’s also much less expensive than an epidural.) Sixteen women have tapped nitrous oxide—which stays in their systems only 30 to 60 seconds—at Mountain Midwifery since it became available. Dads, however, are still on their own.

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