Hunterdon Medical Center offering nitrous oxide to laboring mothers

If you’ve had a baby, or are planning to get pregnant soon, would you have considered taking laughing gas to help with the pain of delivery? With epidural shortages, more people are opting for laughing gas during childbirth.

Hunterdon Medical Center announced that it is now offering nitrous oxide as a pain relief option to laboring mothers. Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a colorless and tasteless mixture of 50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen, which is safe for mother and baby.

More and more women are using nitrous oxide — especially with the ongoing epidural shortage.

An epidural block is the most common type of pain relief used for childbirth in the U.S., according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

With an epidural, medication is administered via a catheter, a flexible tube that’s placed in the lower back to deliver pain relief throughout labor.

Medical centers in some parts of Canada have recently had difficulty getting enough epidural catheterization kits due to global supply chain issues, a remnant of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Catherine McCabe, CNM, APN-C, of All Women’s Healthcare, “I have been practicing as a Certified Nurse Midwife at HMC for 12 years and I am so excited to finally offer nitrous oxide to my patients in labor, pre-labor and post-labor if needed.”

“Nitrous oxide is a century-old form of pain relief that is safer than other medications such as narcotics and epidural,” said McCabe, whose an all-female practice in Hunterdon County includes doctors and midwives. “ It allows women to be in control and remain upright and mobile in between contractions. Women love it!”

Nitrous oxide is a gas sometimes used for sedation and pain relief, particularly by dentists.

It’s usually inhaled, and is classified as a “dissociative anesthetic,” meaning that rather than putting a patient to sleep, or numbing a part of their body, the person taking laughing gas may feel disconnected from their body — and the pain it’s going through.

The gas, which slows the nervous system and can also cause a brief feeling of euphoria, is sometimes offered on its own, or it’s diluted with oxygen to form a gas called Entonox.

Nitrous Oxide is a gas that is inhaled through a self-administered mask and delivered through an on-demand flow delivery system.

Common uses include during childbirth, following trauma, and as part of end-of-life care. The onset of the effect is typically within half a minute, and it lasts for about a minute.

With clinical supervision by a nurse, the patient is in charge of administering her own N2O to help manage her personal pain and anxiety.

The gas is inhaled with each breath for approximately 30 seconds before a contraction begins and through to the end of the contraction. This timing helps the gas to gain optimal effectiveness at about the same time a contraction reaches its peak.

During the use of nitrous oxide, women remain awake and alert with complete motor and sensory functions, allowing patients who use nitrous oxide to be more mobile during labor.

Jen Dillon of Bloomsbury, NJ, chose nitrous oxide for the birth of her second child at Hunterdon Medical Center.

“Nitrous oxide allowed me to be in complete control of my body during labor while providing just enough of a calming sensation to help me through the pain,” said Dillon. “I felt present and in control which was an amazing and drastically different experience compared to when I had an epidural with my first child.”

Minimal side effects reported by laboring women include nausea or dizziness, which can quickly dissipate after the patient stops breathing nitrous oxide and takes a few deep breaths of room air.

Jennifer Coffin, Director of Maternal and Newborn Care Services said, “Improving the patient experience and satisfaction in the labor process and safely delivering healthy babies is our goal. By offering Nitrous Oxide we empower women with another option to manage their discomfort.”

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