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Nitrous Oxide

Certified nurse midwife Karen McGivney-Liechti holds Desmond, the fourth child of Damie Elder-Hiscock (left). Elder-Hiscock used nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, during labor at CHI St. Elizabeth.

Damie Elder-Hiscock wanted a little help during labor in April. With previous children, she had received an epidural, experienced a natural birth and underwent a cesarean section, but for her fourth birth, she wanted a drug that would help her relax.

Enter nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas.

"You just hit this point where you're done," Elder-Hiscock said Wednesday, back in the maternity center at CHI St. Elizabeth with Desmond, her new son. "You have no more left to give and if you hit that point too early, then you're up a creek (without a paddle). This gives you the little something extra to make it further."

That "little something extra" is not pain relief. Elder-Hiscock made that clear.

"I would not categorize it as helping the pain," she said. "But, it helped me to separate my mind a little bit more to keep relaxed and stay above the pain."

Karen McGivney-Liechti, the certified nurse midwife who delivered Desmond this spring, has been helping to bring babies into the world since 1990.

The popularity of using laughing gas during labor has grown in the past two years, she said, but its roots go back much further.

"It was really popular in the 1950s," McGivney-Liechti said, "but it lost its popularity when stronger pain management came in, like epidural."

But as there has been a push for more natural births, McGivney-Liechti said nitrous oxide has become more popular in birth centers.

It's offered during labor at St. Elizabeth and Good Life Birthplace in Lincoln, as well as CHI Health hospitals in Omaha and Nebraska City.

When Elder-Hiscock told her husband, Jared Hiscock, that she wanted to use laughing gas, he was very supportive.

"He was wanting to try for a more natural birth," Elder-Hiscock said, "and heading down that road of interventions is always pretty nerve-racking."

The logistics of nitrous oxide use are pretty simple during labor. Women are given a mask that is hooked up to a nitrous oxide tank that blends with oxygen, 50 percent of each.

When a woman wants nitrous oxide, she puts the mask up to her face and breathes in. No one else, not even doctors or nurses, are allowed to put the mask up to the woman's face.

The side effects to using the gas are limited. Some drowsiness, lightheadedness or even nausea can occur, but not much else, McGivney-Liechti said.

The benefits, she said, including alleviating some of the anxiety and fear.

"For a lot of moms, if they knew it was there, it'd be the perfect thing to pull out and try," Elder-Hiscock said.

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