Between a whirlwind tour of New York City and tabloid headlines blaring the sex of the unborn royal child as female, it’s safe to declare the royal “baby watch” season officially open.
And, yes, while Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton isn’t due until early April, the more her baby bump grows, the more pregnancy goings-on about which we’ll hear.
The alleged cravings.
The (likely minimal) weight gain.
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The instant she goes into labor.
One detail we probably won’t learn is whether she opts – like reportedly 60 percent of expectant mothers in the United Kingdom do – to self-administer nitrous oxide (aka “laughing gas”) to take the edge off labor and delivery pain.
Nitrous oxide: then and now
For most folks in the U.S., nitrous oxide calls to mind long-ago trips to the dentist – or Steve Martin’s hilarious turn as a sadistic, laughing-gas-addicted dentist in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors.”
What you might not realize, however, is that up until the 1960s, the use of obstetric nitrous oxide was common practice in the U.S.
“It fell out of favor in the U.S. during the women’s movement of the 1960s. Women didn’t like the disorienting, ‘trance-like’ effects – and complained about not being able to actually recall giving birth,” says long-time Palm Beach County ob-gyn Jeffrey Kotzen.
For the past few decades in the U.S., the vast majority of expectant mothers who forego “natural childbirth” have received an epidural injection – from an anesthesiologist – to deaden their pain.
In recent years, though, there’s been a small but growing movement in the U.S. to give delivering mothers the nitrous option – but with a new millennium twist: The patient self-administers the gas as needed.
Currently, only about 30 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers are fueling the nitrous resurgence – but they include some renowned institutions, such as the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Colorado and Vanderbilt University.
As a University of Colorado spokesman explained in October to the ABC affiliate in Denver, “Unlike the continuous stream (patients receive) at a dental office, women can breathe the gas for a short time to help them through a contraction, and then remove the mask until it is needed again.”
Because it’s an analgesic – not an anesthetic – the effects of brief intakes of nitrous are neither long-lasting nor harmful to the baby.
How it works
Nitrous doesn’t eliminate birthing pain so much as it shifts one’s perspective on the pain. One nitrous user described to slate.com that “I felt the pain, but I was able to distance myself from it.”
Self-administration of nitrous is also self-correcting: The user’s hand, and the mask itself, will drop away if the user starts nodding off.
Proponents of contemporary obstetric nitrous oxide note other advantages:
There are few, if any, side effects (usually just mild dizziness and/or nausea).
It’s less expensive – and invasive – than epidurals.
It can be self-administered at any point during labor.
It doesn’t impede a woman’s ability to push.
The gas need not necessarily be used in lieu of epidurals – but rather in conjunction with them (as is often done in Canada, Europe and Australia).
Kotzen, who has been delivering babies at Good Samaritan Medical Center since the early 1980s, predicts that, at most, “Nitrous oxide might become a niche option – but not a widespread one.”