Mothers in labor can get new pain relief from unlikely source

SALT LAKE CITY - For many women giving birth, epidurals are a common, albeit expensive, form of pain relief. The treatments usually cost more than a thousand dollars. There is a much cheaper alternative but it's only available in a handful of hospitals across the country.

Some are calling it the birth of a new era, but nitrous oxide is actually a very old method of relieving pain during labor that's just now making a comeback in the United States, and it's proven to be safe for mom and baby.

When Vanessa Monica Vest was pregnant with her first child and searching different labor options, she felt limited to all-natural methods or drugs with no middle ground.

“Do it as natural as I could. So that was my goal from the very beginning,” said Vanessa.

Weeks before Vanessa's due date, she found an unexpected option.

“Something I could do as a backup if I needed,” Vanessa said.

Vanessa discovered that a machine with nitrous oxide could be by her bedside.

“Some women are just looking for something to take the edge off,” said Sara Hake, Nurse Midwife University of Utah Hospital.

Hake said the laughing gas does just that.

“It has been used for a very long time it has a very long safety record,” Hake said.

In the 1800's, nitrous oxide first made its way out of the dentist office, into labor and delivery rooms as one of the first methods to help relieve pain during childbirth.

“We have found it does not affect the fetal heart rate, and that it has a very long safety record,” Hake said.

The method is just now making a comeback in the US.

Doctors say that women shouldn't don't expect to get loopy and laughy like they might at the dentist office. In labor and delivery, it's a lower percentage of nitrous.

“It has oxygen and nitrous oxide and it is a 50/50 blend,” Hake said.

“Its patient administered and because of that they hold the mask and if the patient becomes tired or dizzy then the mask just naturally drops because they've inhaled enough,” Hake said.

That control is something Vanessa wanted.

“Around seven centimeters is when the contractions really started to pick up,” Vanessa said.

When the pain got intense she took a deep breath in.

“You kinda have that moment where you're like, 'I can't do this,'” Vanessa said.

That's when she reached over for the nitrous oxide.

“I can't even describe it, it just gives you a sense of euphoria just relaxes you for a little bit,” Vanessa said.

While the nitrous doesn't numb the pain, it's enough to relax.

“It doesn't last super long but enough for you to get through the contraction,” Vanessa said.

She took a breath every time she felt a contraction coming then towards the end.

“They asked me to stop using it because it was relaxing me too much and I wasn't' pushing as hard,” Vanessa said.

Then finally Mikia, Vanessa's child, made her entrance.

The best part is its safe for mom and baby and most hospitals don't charge for it. That's because it only costs 50 cents per hour to run the gas.

Some moms will use just the nitrous oxide, while others will use it while they get an epidural.

The University of Utah hospital was the first in the valley to make it an option for women but a handful of hospitals across the state are now working to get it in their labor and delivery rooms.