Pregnant Swedes in labour gas ban outrage

Use of laughing gas during labour may soon be no more than a memory for women giving birth in Sweden. Gävleborg hospital, in northeastern Sweden, is first to cut off the use of nitrous oxide as pain relief.

Pregnant Swedes in labour gas ban outrage

“It feels like a slap in the face,” said pregnant Lina Forslund to newspaper Aftonbladet.

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is to be phased out, hopefully by 2014, because of its damaging effect on the environment and on the hospital’s staff and patients.

“Research has shown that patients with a shortage of vitamin B can suffer lasting neurological damage from nitrous oxide. It’s also a question of our work environment. Laughing gas causes documented higher frequencies of miscarriage and deformities,” Ingegerd Lantz, head of Gävleborg’s gynaecological section, explained to Aftonbladet.

“It’s also about the environment around us. Nitrous oxide remains in our atmosphere for 150 years before being broken down,” she continued.

Pregnant Lina Forslund told the paper that she understands the hospital’s reason for discontinuing their use of nitrous oxide.

“But I’m selfish. I don’t want to be in pain giving birth,” she said to Aftonbladet.

Ingegerd Lantz recommends other methods of pain relief, among them epidural anaesthesia and relaxation exercises.

Lina Forslund is unconvinced, however.

“I feel insecure. I’ve used laughing gas for my two previous births, since that was the only thing there was time for. Laughing gas is what you can control. I don’t want to give birth without it, it’s wonderful and I really don’t want to be without it.”

“But if that’s how it’s going to be, I’ll have to live with it. I guess I’ll have to bring along a schnaps instead,” she added.

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Pregnant at 40 no longer rare among Swedish mothers

Sixty-nine Swedish women gave birth at the age of 49 in 2017, highlighting how late motherhood is no longer a taboo nor a rarity for women in Sweden.

Pregnant at 40 no longer rare among Swedish mothers
Photos: TT

The average age of first-time mothers continues to steadily rise in Sweden. 

In 1973, Swedish women gave birth to their first child at the age of 24 on average.

In 2016, the average age was 29, according to Statistics Sweden.

This trends toward delaying pregnancy is also reflected in the increased number of women in their forties willing to have a child at a late age.

The following table illustrates this upward trend among older mothers:

Mother’s age    No. of births 2010       No. of births 2017
43                               533                             680
44                               329                             378
45                               196                             230
46                                 87                             101
47                                 45                              61
48                                 14                              25
49                                 22                              69
The number of women in their forties having children went from 1,226 in 2010 to 1, 544 in 2017. 

Ulrika Wesström is one of these women. 

She had her third child seven years ago at the age of 49.

“I was in a new relationship, my partner had no children and really wanted them,” she told Swedish news agency TT.

“At first I thought it was a little late, but then I realized that it was an excellent idea.”

According to Wesström, the birth of her son Dante wasn’t that different from the previous two.

“Obviously I was worried, but it's always like that when you’re pregnant.

“I was terribly tired towards the end of the pregnancy, but in the fifth month we were on a sailing holiday in Croatia and that was no problem.”

Kenny Rodriguez-Wallberg, professor and chief physician at Karolinska University Hospital's section for reproductive medicine, sees several reasons why childbirth is being delayed by women in Sweden.

“Men and women today put a high value on education and filling their time with a variety of activities before it's time to form a family,” she says.

“Medical advances have resulted in more types of treatments for assisted fertilization, IVF being the most common of these.”

However, women in Sweden cannot be over 40 if they want to receive IVF treatment.

The age limit has been questioned by several organisations including the Swedish Medical Council (Smer), who believe the age the limit is too low.

According to Smer, there isn’t always a greater risk when getting pregnant at an older age, even though some medical studies do suggest there is a higher incidence of complications, birth defects and miscarriages.

Graph showing the number of pregnancies among 49-year-old women in the past 7 years. 

Rodriguez-Wallberg also believes that it is important to leave the mother to decide whether to take on the potential risks of pregnancy.

“A 45-year-old woman can of course be perfectly healthy and capable of giving birth to a healthy child,” she says.

For Wesström and her partner, getting pregnant wasn’t that straightforward, even with medical assitance.

“It took a while, it's not done in a jiffy when you're old. You’re not so fertile anymore at that age,” she told TT.

Wesström also points out that there are many benefits to being an older mother.

“I can recommend it. You have a more well-organized life and better finances when you’re older.

“But I think it's extra important to have a good family network for the child,” she adds, in reference to the fact that as an older mother she is not as likely to be around for her child as long as if she was younger.