Dutch and American Dads Experience Labor

Why we need to increase the availability of Nitrous oxide in American delivery rooms.


Many of you have seen the YouTube video of Dutch guys "in labor." Now there's another one circulating about American men "in labor." Each of the guys is hooked up to an electrical stimulation machine with electrodes attached to their abdominal muscles. When enough electricity is delivered to give the guys "contractions," viewers watch as they freak out and lose their minds over what they'd previously perceived was probably tolerable pain that women had exaggerated.

In the Dutch video, the guys are taken care of by a midwife team that provide both the electrically stimulated contractions and the TLC to get them through the pain. In the American video, a doctor does the zapping and the guys' wives do the handholding. All told, each of the guys put up with about an hour of labor before they call it quits and decide that yes indeed, labor really does hurt as much as women say.

There are some really interesting contrasts between the Dutch and the American men's labors. The Dutch guys labor in a traditional birthing room used for real labors (y'know...the kind women have). There's not much medical equipment on display and the guys wear their own clothes. There's a queen-size bed, a nice deep tub and big windows that let in lots of natural light.

The American guys "labor" in paper gowns on operating room-style delivery beds in rooms filled with medical equipment. They're strapped to contraction monitors and electrodes that deliver pain to their abdominal muscles. They writhe and scream and are obviously pain, but what they experience doesn't really compare with labor. In real labor women have abdominal, uterine, back and leg pain and often, intestinal cramps. Plus, they don't get to call it all off after an hour.

In the Dutch video, the midwives offer the guys pain relief in the form of nitrous oxide, AKA laughing gas or gas and air. I wrote about how nitrous oxide is making a come back in the United States and how it's used for pain relief in labor virtually all over the world. In the American video the guys get nothing. One guy jokes about wanting an epidural and this is the part of the video that's actually fairly similar to real labor.

In America, women get only two choices for pain relief if they decide going au natural isn't cutting it. They can use narcotic medication that may or may not take the edge off, but can only be used for a limited number of doses and not close to delivery because narcotics impair babies. Or, they can get an epidural. That's about it.

In most of the rest of the developed world (which, not coincidentally, has far better maternal and newborn health outcomes than we do) women have a third choice: Nitrous oxide.

I attended the Nashville conference of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) this week. One session featured increased availability of Nitrous oxide in American delivery rooms. For many nurses, this was brand new information. For others, there was resistance because it's different, unfamiliar and, they thought, untested. But considering that 49 other countries have better maternal health outcomes than the US, many American nurses are eager to hear alternatives.

Michelle Collins PhD, CNM Associate Professor of Nursing, Director, Nurse-Midwifery Program at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing explained how the gas and oxygen mixture is used, it's safety record, its long history as an effective analgesic in hospitals all over the world, it's affordability, ease of use and a little about the reason why it's not readily available here in the US-namely, resistance by American anesthesiologists who prefer that American women use epidurals. Fact is, since nitrous oxide is patient-controlled, it kind of cuts out the middle-man (anesthesiologists) and restricts women's dependence on epidurals.

While nitrous oxide doesn't provide complete relief the way epidurals often do, it does provide effective pain relief that can be used throughout the entire labor and delivery without negative impacts on the baby.

When you watch the two videos above, you'll see that nitrous oxide made the difference between guys losing their minds and guys calmly doing the job that had to be done. You watch and decide if Nitrous oxide is something you might want to try and if so, tell your doctor and hospital to bring on the gas.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to jeanne@jeannefaulkner.com.

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