St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor now offering nitrous oxide to women in labor
Drug traditionally found in dental offices now used in Labor & Delivery unit
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – (Nov. 3, 2015) – St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor (SJMAA) is the only hospital in Southeast Michigan now offering nitrous oxide, sometimes referred to as ‘laughing gas,’ to women in labor as another pain management option. Its calming effect has found a new use in the delivery room.
“When it comes to pain management during labor, there is no one solution that fits everyone,” said Gayle Moyer, M.D., director of obstetric patient safety, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. “Offering nitrous oxide is another way to enable a woman to have a better birth experience by providing her with more control during the childbirth process.”
Approved by the FDA for use in labor, nitrous oxide appeals to women who want minimal intervention during childbirth; women who would like some pain relief before it is possible to receive an epidural, and women whose labor goes too fast either for an epidural or safe administration of narcotics.
Nitrous oxide has long been used during labor in Europe, Australia and Canada, but is now seeing a resurgence in the United States. After learning more about its use during the annual meeting of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), which serves to promote the health of women and newborns, SJMAA decided to begin offering it to patients as another pain management option.
Now administered at lower concentrations than when it was used decades ago, nitrous oxide has minor possible side effects such as dizziness and nausea. It is self-administered by the patient through the use of a tank with an attached mask.
Ideally suited for labor, each inhale lasts for the length of the contraction and wears off shortly after the user exhales.
“It can really help women get through individual contractions,” explains Dr. Moyer. “They take a big inhale during a contraction and exhale right back into the mask so the extra gas does not collect in the room. If they start to feel uncomfortable or don’t like the sensation, they simply don’t take an inhalation during the next contraction.”
Nitrous oxide works by reducing the stress hormone response by stimulating the release of endorphins, leading to a feeling of euphoria which makes a patient less aware of pain. Women remain alert with complete motor and sensory function.
The use of nitrous oxide enables a laboring woman to remain mobile, without slowing labor. Unlike narcotics—which can make both mom and baby sleepy– nitrous oxide has no effect on the baby’s heart rate, APGAR scores or reflexes. In addition, the use of nitrous oxide does not pose an increased c-section risk. It has been used for decades without apparent long term side effects to the baby. It also can be used for post delivery procedures such as laceration repair.
Nitrous oxide has proven to be a popular choice at St. Joe’s in Ann Arbor since it was introduced on the labor and delivery unit two weeks ago. Roughly three to four patients a day have used it and that volume is expected to continue.
Lauren Pennington, of Ypsilanti, recently used nitrous oxide when delivering her second baby. She found it a welcome alternative to other pain relief options due to her fear of needles.
“With my daughter’s birth, I had an epidural and it only worked for the first hour,” said Pennington. “Typically my labor is shorter, so I thought I’d try nitrous because I really don’t like needles.”
Pennington was able to use the nitrous oxide during both labor and delivery, inhaling roughly nine times during the hour-long process.
“I still would feel pain but not like you normally would —it took the edge off,” said Pennington. “It actually made it seem like each contraction went faster. I would definitely recommend this to someone or use it again in the future. It’s a lot less invasive and you don’t have to worry about it affecting the baby. ”
Currently being used at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, the use of nitrous oxide may be rolled out at other Saint Joseph Mercy Health System hospitals in the future.