Published on June 04, 2019

ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital offers nitrous oxide option for pain relief during labor

ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital now offers nitrous oxide as a pain relief option during labor and delivery. It is the first hospital in southeastern Wisconsin to make the option available to women in many years. 

A safe, fast-acting, low-level sedative, nitrous oxide lessens perceived pain, allowing the patient to feel calm, drowsy, distracted and detached from pain and anxiety. It was commonly available for labor and delivery in the U.S. decades ago – before epidurals became the preferred method of pain relief. 

Nitrous oxide has remained in use for labor and delivery in Canada, Britain and many parts of Europe. It is also a pain management option in emergency, surgical and dental care in the U.S. There has been a resurgence of use of the gas in the U.S., and today approximately 400 hospitals make it available to women in labor. 

The 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide mixture is considered to be safe for the patient and her baby when used without prescription medications that contain narcotics, opioids or sedatives. Some patients are not eligible for nitrous oxide.

“We are very pleased to offer nitrous oxide to ProHealth patients in Oconomowoc,” said Megan Anderson, director of the women’s health service line. “We’ve been working closely with the physicians of Moreland OB-GYN Associates as they introduce this option to their patients who plan to deliver at Oconomowoc Memorial.” 

Nitrous oxide may also be offered at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital in the future. 

Nitrous oxide is commonly used: 

  • In combination with other non-pharmacologic pain relief measures, such as breathing techniques, soaking in a warm bath, birthing balls, or electrical impulses delivered through a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit.

  • As a pain management bridge to a prescription pain medication, or anesthetic, when patients are waiting to request one, or are waiting for an anesthetic to be approved or administered.

  • For patients who are unable to, or choose not to, be treated using an anesthetic.

  • During an after-delivery surgical repair. 

  • An eligible patient who opts for nitrous oxide is fitted with a handheld face mask that connects to a tank of nitrous oxide and oxygen. The patient decides when to use the mask and inhale the colorless gas. If she requests an anesthetic such as an epidural later, the nitrous oxide can be immediately discontinued. 

Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, headache, lightheadedness, sleepiness and dry mouth. 

The best time for a pregnant woman to discuss pain management is during prenatal visits with her obstetrician or family medicine physician.

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