WLM ID: ainj | Catalog Record
When Dr. Robert James Minnitt (1889-1974) began his medical career in 1915, most of Great Britain’s poor and working-class women gave birth at home with the aid of a midwife. Because the popular ‘twilight sleep’ for labor pain was administered only by physicians, effective pain relief during childbirth was generally not available to these women. Dr. Minnitt’s refusal to accept this disparity inspired him to work with A. Charles King (1888-1966), a prominent English manufacturer of anesthetic equipment, to develop a nitrous oxide (N2O) delivery device that could be carried by midwives into the homes of the women they cared for. Minnitt and King adapted a McKesson device, likely the Nargraf, to create a machine that could be used by the patient to self-administer a mixture of air and N2O. The Minnitt Apparatus was introduced in 1933 and approved by a British oversight authority, the Central Board of Midwives, in 1936.
The size of the machine allowed a midwife to place it into a basket on her bicycle for transport. The N2O cylinders however were very heavy and coordinating their delivery to a woman’s home was sometimes a hindrance. Obtaining the funds for the purchase and maintenance of the machines could also present challenges. Despite these difficulties, for many years the Minnitt Apparatus provided the only means of analgesia to millions of British women in labor.