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Nitrous Oxide for Pain Relief

Melissa Breen, RN, BSN, RNC-OB, CCCE Labor and Delivery, (left) and Kayla Spalding, RN, BSN, Labor and Delivery, at Saint Joseph East, led an NPDP QUI project to implement nitrous oxide as an alternative choice for perinatal analgesia to support natural childbirth.

LEXINGTON Every birth is unique and special, so it’s important to find the perfect birth plan for each mother and her new baby. Women’s Hospital at Saint Joseph East is the first in Lexington to offer nitrous oxide as a pain management option for expectant mothers.

“We’re putting mom in control,” said Kelly Ray, MBA, BSN, RN, director of Women’s and Children’s Services/Breast Care, Women’s Hospital at Saint Joseph East. “We’re letting mom determine how she wants to deliver and make her own choices.”

Nitrous oxide is becoming increasingly popular among women in the United States. Often called “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide works to decrease pain and anxiety, while allowing mothers to experience childbirth in a more intimate and holistic way. Saint Joseph East has offered nitrous as a pain management option since January.

Nitrous oxide is frequently used for pain relief; many people have used it during minor medical procedures, such as getting a tooth pulled. According to the latest research from the American College of Nurse-Midwives, nitrous oxide is a safe, efficient, and beneficial option for relieving pain during childbirth.

The use of nitrous oxide as a pain reliever during labor in the US dates back to the 1800s. Over time, however, it became less popular than other, more comprehensive pain relief methods like the epidural. Nitrous oxide is commonly administered to mothers during labor in other countries with high standards of health care, such as Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom. The US has always used nitrous oxide for mothers during labor in modern years, but never to the extent of other countries.

The US has recently seen a growing movement of women choosing this option of pain relief due to its immense benefits and small risk factors. When nitrous oxide is used for labor pain, treatment is self-administered by the patient under the supervision of a medical professional.

“Moms can choose to use nitrous oxide, but can change to another form of pain management at any time during the labor process if they choose to do so,” Ray said.

Nitrous oxide has no effect on the body’s release of oxytocin, which allows the infant to be alert during the early bonding period between a mother and her newborn. It also has no effect on breastfeeding and does not increase the risk of neonatal resuscitation.

The dose of nitrous oxide given to a woman during labor is low enough that it is not an overly strong sedative. Women who use nitrous oxide during labor may still have labor pain awareness, although many have found that it helps them relax and decreases their perception of labor pains.

Although the risks are minimal, some women may experience feelings of sedation, dizziness, and nausea and vomiting while taking nitrous oxide.

Mary Branham is director of communications for CHI Saint Joseph Health