Morton Plant, Mease Countryside Hospitals Offer New Method of Pain Relief During Childbirth

Nitrous oxide is a non-invasive technique for managing pain during labor

CLEARWATER, Fla., (Oct. 14, 2014) -- Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” has been used as anesthesia in dentistry for 170 years.  More recently, hospitals in the U.S. have begun offering nitrous oxide as analgesia – pain reliever – for mothers during childbirth.  Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater, incorporated the practice in March, and Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor, began offering the option Sept. 3.

“Until now, women in labor only had two options for pain management,” said Marcia Albanese, director of Women and Children’s Services for Morton Plant Mease Health Care.  “The more well-known method is an epidural – an injection of anesthesia that blocks pain in certain areas.  The other choice is pain medication administered intravenously.  Many women prefer a more natural childbirth and nitrous oxide is a good solution for them.”

When a laboring woman chooses this option, a machine is brought into the labor and delivery room that produces a blend of oxygen and nitrous oxide.  “It’s not like the dentist office where the mix is about 70 percent oxygen and 30 percent nitrous oxide,” Albanese explained.  “In this instance, the patient only gets a 50/50 blend.  The other difference is that during childbirth, nitrous oxide is self-administered.  That’s the nice thing about it – it’s not invasive.”

The patient holds a mask to her face and is encouraged to time breaths prior to contractions so that the effect peaks at the beginning of a contraction.  “It takes a few seconds for the effects of the nitrous oxide to peak.  It’s very short acting so there are no long-lasting effects,” Albanese added. 

Since implementing the procedure in March, about one-fourth of Morton Plant’s patients have used nitrous oxide for pain relief; so far, about 10 patients at Mease Countryside have chosen the new option to control pain.  The reasons vary:  sometimes mothers in labor use nitrous oxide until they can get an epidural or in addition to it; sometimes there isn’t time for an epidural or the patient doesn’t qualify for one. Others choose nitrous oxide from the beginning.  Use of nitrous oxide is very individualized and affects patients differently.  

“It doesn’t completely eliminate the pain, but it helps manage it,” Albanese said.  “Most women feel the positive effect of pain relief, decreased anxiety and/or a feeling of not caring about the pain within 30-60 seconds. It can help to decrease anxiety and the mother can continue to be aware and participate in the birthing process.”

Nitrous oxide has been used as pain relief during labor for decades in other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  “Nitrous oxide’s rapid onset of action and quick clearance means that it doesn’t build up in the mother or the baby, making it a good choice for labor and delivery pain relief,” said Albanese. The only side effects to the mother are that it may cause nausea or dizziness.

Patients may discuss the method of pain relief with their physician ahead of time.  Others learn about it during Morton  and Mease Countryside Prepared Childbirth classes.  To find a Prepared Childbirth class, go to BayCareEvents.org.

About Morton Plant Mease
Nationally recognized for health care excellence, Morton Plant Mease Health Care is dedicated to providing community owned health care services that set the standard for high-quality, compassionate care. Morton Plant Mease Health Care is comprised of the following hospitals – Morton Plant, Clearwater; Mease Dunedin, Dunedin; Mease Countryside, Safety Harbor and Morton Plant North Bay, New Port Richey.

About BayCare Health System
BayCare Health System is a leading community-based health system in the Tampa Bay area. Composed of a network of 11 not-for-profit hospitals, outpatient facilities and services such as imaging, lab, behavioral health and home health care, BayCare provides expert medical care throughout a patient’s lifetime. With more than 200 access points conveniently located throughout Tampa Bay, BayCare connects patients to a complete range of preventive, diagnostic and treatment services for any health care need. 

BayCare’s family of hospitals are: Mease Countryside, Mease Dunedin, Morton Plant, Morton Plant North Bay, St. Anthony’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph’s Children’s, St. Joseph’s Hospital-North, St. Joseph’s Women’s, South Florida Baptist, and Winter Haven. For more information, visit BayCare on the Web at www.BayCare.org.

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