Nitrous oxide now is offered to women in labor at Hannibal Regional Chris Coons Women’s Care Center.
“The use of nitrous oxide has been shown to be safe and effective in taking the edge off contractions, thus relieving some pain of childbirth, and we are excited that Hannibal Regional is pioneering its use in the Northeast Missouri area,” said Linda Dinges, Chris Coons Women’s Care director.
Dr. John Bennett, medical director of the Hannibal Regional Hospital maternity ward, said nitrous oxide is preferred by some women over other pain-management remedies.
“This is a great option in pain management for women who want as little intervention as possible during labor or if they are not an ideal candidate for spinal anesthesia or another form of pain management,” Bennett said.
For some women, the colorless, slightly sweet-smelling gas takes enough of the edge off contractions to allow them to better cope with their labor.
“Others say it reduces anxiety and may elicit feelings of well-being during contractions,” Dinges said. “Yet, as in natural childbirth, the woman remains fully aware of her labor contractions and fully attentive during the delivery.”
Dinges explained how the gas can be effective.
“Choosing nitrous oxide can be beneficial. It is less invasive than spinal anesthesia, has fewer risks and is easy to administer,” Dinges said. “A woman in labor simply puts a small face mask over her mouth and nose and then inhales the gas, which she feels immediately. She then naturally releases the mask as she begins to feel more relaxed. Nitrous oxide does not have a numbing effect like spinal anesthesia; it’s mild and nontoxic and leaves the patient’s system within minutes once the patient stops using it.”
Obstetricians who assist mothers with the birth of their babies at Hannibal Regional educate them during their prenatal appointments about the opportunity to use nitrous oxide in labor and delivery. The Women’s Care nursing team teaches women to use the gas mixture in labor. The woman breathes normally into a mask, and with those breaths she inhales the 50/50 nitrous/oxygen mixture. The process is initiated approximately 30 seconds before each contraction for the full effect, and it wears off within a few seconds between contractions. A mother develops her own rhythm using the gas and has a trained RN at her bedside at all times while using the nitrous mixture.
By the conclusion of delivery, the nitrous has left the patient’s body completely. It does not interfere with feeding or caring for the baby after birth.
Women in labor may stop using nitrous oxide at any time during labor and switch to another form of pain management, if they choose.
Kim Runquist recently gave birth at Hannibal Regional to a 9 lb. 10 oz. baby girl. Runquist used the nitrous oxide technique instead of other interventions frequently used in labor and delivery.
“It was easy to use and very effective. It definitely helped me to focus, relax and stay calm. I inhaled slowly several times during a contraction. When the contraction was over, the effects were gone. After usage, I felt more in control and relaxed,” Runquist said, adding, “I would definitely use this technique again.”
Nitrous oxide was used for labor pains in the United States until the 1970s when its popularity diminished with the advent of spinal anesthesia. It is routinely used in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“We’re pleased to take this leadership step and make nitrous oxide available to our maternity patients,” said Dinges. “It’s one of the many advances we’ve made to provide women and babies with state-of-the-art, individualized care before, during and after childbirth. This alternative comfort measure continues with the availability of inflatable therapy balls, wireless fetal monitoring and the use of hydrotherapy in labor with a shower or tub.”
“As a Baby Friendly-designated hospital since July 2009, Hannibal Regional is committed to creating the best evidence-guided birth experience for every mother, every time,” Dinges said.
Today, there are approximately 300 hospitals using nitrous oxide for childbirth experiences, according to manufacturers of nitrous oxide systems. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has issued a bulletin in support of nitrous oxide. Nitrous is cheaper than an epidural by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars.
Hannibal Regional says more than 600 babies will be born at the Chris Coons Women’s Care Center in 2017.