Longmont United Hospital Now Offering Nitrous Oxide for Pain Relief During Labor
Expecting mothers are often only given three options for pain relief during labor — intravenous narcotics, an epidural or nothing at all — but there is another option: nitrous oxide.
Most people know nitrous oxide as the laughing gas administered in their dentist’s office, but other countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and Finland have used it as an analgesic during labor for over a century.
While a few university hospitals in the United States have offered nitrous as a form of pain relief for some time now, only recently has it become a more widespread option. Longmont United Hospital , for example, just started to offer it on Monday.
Non-addictive laughing gas can effectively dull the pain of giving birth and leaves a person’s system so fast it doesn’t have any effect on the mother’s or child’s health, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
“It’s a very nice adjuvant between going completely natural and using an epidural,” said Dr. Jennifer Blattner, an OB/GYN for Boulder Medical Center. “I’ve seen a lot of women get through the whole labor course with just nitrous. You can also use it after the baby comes out and there’s a drop in adrenaline, but you still have to deliver the placenta or have a complicated vaginal repair, it’s nice to use for extra pain relief.”
Unlike traditional narcotics used for labor, such as fentanyl, that cannot be administered too close to the actual birth for fear of depressing the baby’s central nervous system, nitrous can be used at any time during labor.
Whenever there is a contraction, or even during the final pushes, all a mother needs to do for some relief is grab the mask and breathe in. With a mixture of half oxygen and half nitrous, it is less than someone would receive at the dentist’s office, and expectant mothers are still coherent and able to make decisions, they just simply “don’t care as much about the pain,” said Bobbi Buchanan, director of women’s services at Longmont United Hospital.
Because it doesn’t completely numb a patient, those with lower pain tolerances also can try nitrous and switch to more traditional pain medications if they find nitrous is not enough.
“This just gives moms another option to take the edge off a little bit while not unnecessarily exposing their baby to medications,” Buchanan said. “I think it will continue to be a growing trend because there really aren’t any major side effects.”
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the only side effects are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness or a feeling of claustrophobia due to the mask being on the patient’s face. However, studies show these effects are only experienced by a small percentage of patients..
With so few side effects, nitrous is quickly becoming a popular alternative for hospitals to offer all over the country. While Longmont United Hospital just began offering nitrous this week, UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital, the Boulder Health Center, Avista Adventist Hospital, St. Anthony North Health Campus, Medical Center for the Rockies and Poudre Valley Hospital have all started offering it within the last year or so.
“It just adds another option,” Boulder Medical Center’s Blattner said. I think it makes them feel more in control and helps make it a more enjoyable experience.”
John Spina: 303-473-1389, email@example.com or twitter.com/jsspina24