After a decade, laughing gas is once again available to women in labour at the Danish maternity ward, Source: Depositphotos

Danish hospital gives sustainable laughing gas to women giving birth

Danish hospital gives sustainable laughing gas to women giving birth

A 4-hour birth has the same CO2 footprint as driving 1,500 km by car, but not in this maternity ward

Hvidovre Hospital, located in a suburb of the Copenhagen metropolis, has the largest maternity ward in all of Denmark. It is also a place where expectant mothers can receive nitrous oxide (N2O) as an anaesthetic to help with the pains of labour.

In that light, the hospital announced that on Wednesday, 8 February, it unveiled a special and unique facility that helps to break down nitrous oxide into neutral gases before releasing them into the atmosphere thus making the whole process sustainable and climate-friendly.

N2O and its (mitigated) impact

For starters, some may wonder at the fact that laughing gas is an anaesthetic supplied to women in labour at Hvidovre Hospital. Indeed, for ten years that medical procedure was put on hold and was not available giving authorities the chance to determine whether it was harmful to the patients and staff.

After it had been determined that it was safe to administer nitrous oxide, its application was scheduled to resume in 2021 but then the Covid pandemic delayed it once again until now.

However, in the meantime, due to rising environmental consciousness in Denmark, another aspect of N2O had to be considered – its heavy carbon footprint. Although laughing gas contains no carbon it is regarded as one of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. So, for all intents and purposes, its impact is measured in comparison to the more common CO2.

Laughing gas is a highly potent greenhouse gas that affects the climate 300 times as much as CO2. Therefore, it has been important for us to look at whether we could do something with the installation to limit emissions in this area, and we have been able to do that with a destructor device," explained Jannick Rasmussen, head of the health properties department at the Capital Region.

N2O is not absorbed in the body, so when the patient exhales the gas again, it is led to the destructor via the hose in the mask. The so-called destructor works like a car’s catalytic converter breaking down the used nitrous oxide into environmentally neutral substances.

The reduced carbon footprint is therefore significant, considering that at the hospital 2 tonnes of N2O are used annually, which would correspond to 600 tonnes of CO2. In other words, a 4-hour childbirth process is equivalent to driving a car for 1,500 kilometres when N2O is used. But with the new facility, that is now close to zero.



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