In labor? Try laughing gas, ladders and VR headsets at Boulder County hospitals

In the not-too-distant past, pregnant women going into labor had few options to manage the pain of delivery. In fact, they had two options.

“Traditionally it’s been you get an epidural or you get nothing, which one do you want?” says Dr. Kristen Wolfe of Boulder Medical Center. “But, really, the more appropriate thing might be something in the middle.”

In just the last few years, Boulder County hospitals have embraced new pain management tools — everything from nitrous oxide to virtual reality — and have made a conscious decision to phase out opioid use. The change has been supported by Boulder County mothers, who choose to use epidurals at relatively low rates (less than 50 percent at some hospitals), and who are eager to try these new and innovative ways to manage labor pain.

Nationally, the rate of women who choose to use epidurals is around 70 percent, though many of the doctors, nurses and midwives we spoke to for this story say hospitals they’ve worked at previously had a rate closer to 80 percent. There are plenty of reasons why the epidural rate is lower in Boulder County — a strong commitment to naturopathic and holistic medicine, a desire among local women to be more active during labor, and skepticism and wariness of medical intervention, particularly one that requires an anesthesiologist and a large needle in the back.   

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