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Posted: September 24, 2017

Laughing gas through labor? More hospitals offering nitrous oxide for moms-to-be

Pregnant woman in childbirth takes nitrous oxide (stock photo).
Micke Lilja/Getty Images
Pregnant woman in childbirth takes nitrous oxide (stock photo).

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By Nicole Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas —

Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas, has just added to a handful of its labor and delivery rooms something you might think of as only being used at the dentist’s office: nitrous oxide aka laughing gas.

Why? Moms in labor in Europe have been using laughing gas for decades, and it’s recently gaining favor in the U.S., especially in California. Natural birthing centers like Austin Area Birthing Center and Natural Beginning Birth Center in Texas have been offering nitrous oxide to their patients, as well. The hospitals are starting to catch up.

Laughing gas doesn’t have some of the side effects (the loopiness and loss of control) that narcotics like Demerol or other pain medications have, and it doesn’t affect the baby’s heart rate. The only thing that could happen is nausea or vomiting for the mom, but that’s rare.

It’s also short-acting. A mom can put the laughing gas mask to her face just before a contraction starts or during a contraction and then remove the mask after it’s passed. She will only feel the effects of the gas when she’s breathing it in.

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She can’t overdose either, because she’s the one holding the mask to her face. If she got too much, she wouldn’t be able to continue to hold the mask to her face because she would be asleep.

If you’ve had laughing gas in the dentist office and didn’t like how you felt, this is a different formula. It’s a 50 percent nitrogen, 50 percent oxygen for moms in labor. For people in the dentist office, it’s a 70 percent nitrogen 30 percent oxygen formula.

It actually doesn’t stop the mom from feeling the labor pain. She just doesn’t care about the pain, says Dr. Sally Grogono, an obstetrician at Seton Medical Center.

“I think it’s amazing,” says Grogono, who helped encourage Seton to add the nitrous oxide hookups in the rooms.

“A lot of our natural labor moms just need something little to take the edge off,” she says.

Sometimes women can stall out in labor because they are tensing because of the pain. This would help them not do that.

“Childbirth is very anxiety producing for all the patients,” Grogono says. Because they control when and how often they are getting the gas, they have more control over the pain.

They usually only use it at the height of labor but don’t need it during the pushing stage.

The only women who should not use it are people with multiple sclerosis or a severe B-12 deficiency.

Since Seton began offering it two weeks ago, Grogono has heard good reports from the labor and delivery nurses. She’s now educating her patients that it’s an option for them. They would just have to request that they be put in a room that has it.

“It’s not going to work for everybody, but it’s a great tool for our patients,” Grogono says.


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