No laughing matter: Gas not an option for pain relief during childbirth on P.E.I. due to COVID-19

A P.E.I. woman is upset she wasn’t better informed she won’t be able to use nitrous oxide gas — commonly known as laughing gas — as a pain relief during childbirth.

'It’s already an experience that destabilizes you'

Health PEI officials say gas hasn't an option for pain relief during childbirth since the third week of March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Canadian Press)

A P.E.I. woman is upset she wasn't better informed she won't be able to use nitrous oxide gas — commonly known as laughing gas — as a pain relief during childbirth.

Erica Leighton's due date for her second child is Thursday and she says she didn't even know the option was off the table until last week when she started discussing pain management options with her obstetrician.

Leighton said she was dismayed.

"I hadn't heard of this regulation or this rule that had come into effect," she said.

"All in-person prenatal classes have been cancelled. There's a lot of people who don't have access to any kind of regular information."

'I think that information is a really incredible tool and knowing what I know now I can go forward and learn more about the options available to me,' says Erica Leighton. (Submitted by Erica Leighton)

In an email, officials with Health PEI said Island hospitals are following the recommendations of the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians Canada to not use nitrous oxide during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the risk of droplets.

The email said gas hasn't been an option for soon-to-be Island mothers since the third week of March. A timeline was not given for when the service would be offered again. 

Leighton said she understands that this is something that needs to be done as a precautionary measure during the pandemic.

"However I think there should be perhaps a little bit of room in there to consider situations like in P.E.I. where our case count has been incredibly low," she said.

'Incredibly thrown off'

"There could be enough reason to consider providing that option based on a day-by-day case-by-case type of scenario."

Leighton said she had a false alarm just over a week ago where she thought she was going into labour. She was assessed at the hospital and health officials thought at first that she was in labour — but, she said, they didn't tell her she wouldn't be offered gas. 

"At that point that regulation would have been in effect and no one told me about it," she said.

"I would have been incredibly thrown off. I mean it's already an experience that destabilizes you and really you don't want to have to think about anything at that point."

Leighton says nitrous oxide helped her through her first pregnancy and she was hoping to use it again for her second. (Submitted by Erica Leighton)

Leighton said she spoke to one of her pregnant friends, and she had not heard that gas was not available due to COVID-19, either. She said she also posted in some Facebook groups for expecting mothers that she is a member of, and people in those groups told her they had no idea gas wouldn't be an option for them either.

She feels health officials should have told expecting mothers about the change as soon as it was brought in.

"I think that information is a really incredible tool and knowing what I know now I can go forward and learn more about the options available to me and then at least feel that I have that information going in," she said.

In the email from Health PEI, officials said women can use alternatives to nitrous oxide for pain relief, such as narcotics and epidurals, as well as non-pharmacological comfort and relaxation techniques such as music, back rubs and breathing techniques.

Considering options?

Leighton said she believes gas is the safest form of pain management for her and her baby — she used it before and she doesn't want to have an epidural.

"I have a back injury in my lower spine. So psychologically the idea of a large needle down there is enough to discourage me," she said.

Leighton said other options seem stressful when gas is taken out of the equation — but in the heat of the moment things could change.

"I'll see how I feel when it happens. Because you can have all the plans in the world and then you know when that pain hits you may kind of think 'You know what? I don't care, I don't care, I just need whatever it takes to get through,'" she said.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.



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