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Upstate now offers nitrous oxide for women in labor

Upstate University Hospital is adding another option for moms to control labor pains.

Nitrous oxide is now being offered to moms giving birth at the Family Birth Center at its Community Campus.

Upstate is the only area hospital to offer nitrous oxide as an option for pain relief during labor.

While the use of nitrous oxide to quell labor pains is starting to make a comeback in the United States, it has been used in Europe for this purpose for years with safe outcomes for mother and child. Nitrous oxide lost favor in the U.S. with the popularity of the epidural, an anesthesia that blocks pain in a particular part of the body.

“We’re pleased to be able to offer this alternative to women who want some element of relief from labor pains,” said Laurie Fegley, RN, BSN, nurse manager of the Family Birth Center. “It’s a very user-friendly anesthetic for mom, as she is in complete control of how often she needs the pain relief.”

Fegley said women should discuss pain relief options with their health care providers. “The staff at the Family Birth Center is knowledgeable about all pain relief options for labor and will talk with patients about each option,” she said. “Some pain relief options may not be available to every women, depending on their health history, but largely the decision of what pain relief to use is up to each patient.”

Nitrous oxide is a clear colorless gas inhaled through a mouthpiece or mask that goes over the mouth and nose. The mask is controlled only by the patient, therefore enabling the patient to use at her convenience when painful contractions start.  The mask is not strapped to the face, but held in the hand for use as needed.

During the use of nitrous oxide, women remain awake and alert with complete motor and sensory function, allowing women who use nitrous oxide to walk during labor, if appropriate.

Nitrous oxide does not block pain like some other drugs do, nor does it numb the body, rather it relaxes the patient which helps take the edge off pain or enables the patient to disassociate from the pain.

A benefit to using nitrous oxide over other pain relievers is that side effects dissipate quickly after the patient stops breathing nitrous oxide. Some women may experience drowsiness, lightheadedness, nausea or dizziness using nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide has a rapid onset, usually providing pain relief within 30 seconds. If the nitrous oxide is not providing a level of pain relief desired by the patient, it can be stopped and replaced with another anesthesia.

Not all women may be candidates for using nitrous oxide during labor. Certain situations, conditions will rule out this option, such as a documented Vitamin B-12 deficiency, or laboring before 35 weeks.

Most people are familiar with nitrous oxide as pain relief for dental procedures, where people may know it as “laughing gas.”

But when used for labor, the mixture is 50 percent nitrous oxide and 50 percent oxygen—a less potent mixture than that used for dental procedures.

The American College of Nurse-Midwives calls nitrous oxide an inexpensive, simple, reasonably safe and effective analgesic.

Caption: Marie Tillie, LPN, left, and Brenna Ricci Simmons, RN, demonstrate the use of nitrous oxide, which is now being offered as an anesthesia open during labor at the Family Birth Center at the Community Campus. Upstate is the first Syracuse hospital to offer nitrous oxide for labor pain.

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