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LAS VEGAS, February 24, 2020 – Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican hospitals recently became the first hospitals in the state of Nevada to offer mothers the option of using nitrous oxide for pain relief during labor.
Breathing nitrous oxide – better known as laughing gas – can help mothers take the edge off of the peak of contractions during labor, making it easier to cope with the pain of childbirth. Nitrous oxide can also provide an anti-anxiety effect, allowing mothers to be more in-the-moment while giving birth without the side effects of narcotics.
First-time mother Tiffany Phuong had never heard of using nitrous oxide during labor before she arrived at San Martín Maternal Child Unit to deliver Baby Stella in January. Tiffany arrived in labor on the very first day the nitrous oxide protocol was available at the hospital. She listened to nurses describe the new protocol and trusted their advice. “They told me about it and said I would be the first one to use it. And I said yes!”
And she is very glad she did. Tiffany arrived at San Martín fully dilated, so the epidural she and her doctor had discussed to help manage her labor pain was no longer an option.
Dr. Gregory Gex, M.D., Chief of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at San Martín hospital believes the new nitrous protocol is a significant step. He said, “It is a game changer in that there’s something new available. I expect people are going to be more and more receptive as word of mouth spreads this news.”
Nitrous oxide is a non-opioid choice for pain relief during labor. Classified as an analgesic, like Tylenol, Motrin, and other over-the-counter pain relievers, nitrous oxide offers the added benefit of reducing anxiety. It will help reduce pain but does not completely eliminate it like an epidural.
After 30 years in practice and delivering more than 7,000 babies, Dr. Gex says there is still a place for epidurals and other medications, but that the new nitrous oxide protocol can bridge the gap between delivering unmedicated and more invasive procedures.
The new nitrous oxide protocol is being well-received by mothers seeking a more natural, less-medicated or unmedicated birth plan.
“It’s all about giving Moms more choices,” said Kimberly Shaw, President and CEO of the Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican, San Martín Campus. “Dignity Health wants expecting Moms to have a say in their birth plans. The birth of a child should not be a one-size-fits-all model, but an experience that is customized for them.”
Nitrous oxide takes effect within seconds and offers immediate relief of pain and anxiety. It is self-administered, meaning mothers have control over when they need it and how much they need. Breathing the gas just before a contraction allows the gas to take effect the same time the contraction reaches its peak, providing the greatest amount of relief. Mothers may feel drowsy or light headed when using it. If they don’t like the feeling, they can stop the gas immediately and it will clear their system in just a few minutes, leaving no side effects.
Dr. Gex, says his patients are excited about the new option. “Some mothers might want to go without medication, but they still need something for pain. This helps them get it done naturally. Once they realize this is patient-driven and after a couple breaths it is out of their system, they feel safer with it.”
Use of nitrous oxide to manage the pain of early labor does not prevent the use of an epidural. Some mothers may choose to use it before they have an epidural. Others may choose to use only nitrous oxide, or use it first before moving on to other methods of pain relief in labor.
Janell Chyle, RN, Nurse Manager of the Maternal Child Unit at the Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican, San Martín Campus, says she and her staff are also seeing welcome results from expecting parents. “For a lot of mothers this is brand new, but some savvy mothers already know about it and we see a lot of happy faces when we describe our new nitrous protocol during our pre-admission tours.”
Ms. Chyle added, “It was really exciting when our first mother used it. Our nurses find the nitrous protocol can be very beneficial in early labor, as it gives mothers the freedom to move around. Once the epidural is administered, they are no longer mobile.”
The use of nitrous oxide is not actually new to obstetrical practice. It has been safely used elsewhere for nearly 50 years and is common in other states and in places like the U.K. and Norway.
A small number of mothers may be unable to utilize the nitrous option. Expecting mothers should talk with their doctors about nitrous oxide and determine if it is an appropriate option to manage pain and anxiety during labor.
For more information on the new nitrous protocol or to register for an upcoming tour of the Maternal Child Unit at St. Rose San Martín hospital or St. Rose Siena hospital, visit strosehospitals.org/baby.
About Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican:
As the community’s only not-for-profit, faith-based health system, Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican has been guided by the vision and core values of the Adrian Dominican Sisters since 1947. As the Henderson and Las Vegas communities grow, the St. Rose Dominican health system and its nearly 4,000 employees will continue the Sisters’ mission of serving people in need. St. Rose Dominican is a member of the multi-state Dignity Health network of 10,000 physicians, more than 60,000 employees, 41 acute care hospitals and 400-plus care-centers including neighborhood hospitals, urgent care, surgery and imaging centers, and primary care clinics.
Sara San Juan