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Upstate University Hospital Community campus offers nitrous oxide during labor

By Eric Reinhardt


Marie Tillie (left), a licensed practical nurse and Brenna Ricci Simmons, registered nurse, demonstrate the use of nitrous oxide, which Upstate University Hospital’s Community campus is now offering as an anesthesia option during labor in its Family Birth Center. Upstate says it is the first Syracuse hospital to offer nitrous oxide for labor pain. (Photo provided by Upstate University Hospital)

ONONDAGA, N.Y. — Upstate University Hospital is now offering nitrous oxide to mothers giving birth at the Family Birth Center at the Community campus in the town of Onondaga.

The hospital is describing it as “adding another option for moms to control labor pains.”

Upstate is the “only area hospital” to offer nitrous oxide as an option for pain relief during labor, the organizations contended in a news release.

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

Most people are familiar with nitrous oxide as pain relief for dental procedures, “where people might know it as ‘laughing gas,’” Upstate said.

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.

Upstate University Hospital cites the Silver Spring, Maryland–based American College of Nurse-Midwives as describing nitrous oxide an “inexpensive, simple, reasonably safe and effective analgesic.”


About nitrous oxide

The use of nitrous oxide to quell labor pains is “starting to make a comeback” in the U.S., but hospitals in Europe have been using it for this purpose “for years with safe outcomes” for mother and child, according to Upstate.

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, the release stated.

Nitrous oxide is a clear, colorless gas inhaled through a mouthpiece or mask placed over the mouth and nose. The patient controls the mask, 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, Upstate explained.

Side effects “dissipate quickly” after the patient stops breathing nitrous oxide, something that Upstate calls a “benefit” to using nitrous oxide over other pain relievers.

For some women, the use of nitrous oxide may result in drowsiness, lightheadedness, nausea or dizziness.

Nitrous oxide has a rapid onset, usually providing pain relief within 30 seconds, Upstate said.

Nitrous oxide may not be suitable for all women during labor. “Certain” situations and conditions will rule out this option, such as a documented vitamin B-12 deficiency, or laboring before 35 weeks, according to the release.


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