Nitrous Oxide Program Expansion


A few months ago we posted a Q&A with Dr. Alice Hirata about nitrous oxide as a form of pain management during labor. At the time, St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center were the only two facilities in Virginia to offer it. This past November, Bon Secours Richmond Health System sent out a press release detailing the expansion of nitrous oxide as well as a testimonial from a patient who successfully used it during labor.

PRESS RELEASE: Bon Secours Richmond Health System is expanding the availability of nitrous oxide, an effective low-intervention tool for pain management during labor, into several hospitals throughout the Richmond region. Nitrous oxide has been offered at St. Mary’s Hospital since March 2014 and is now in the labor and delivery areas at St. Francis Medical Center and Memorial Regional Medical Center.

According to Dr. Cara Golish Hartle, OB/GYN with Virginia Physicians for Women, more and more women desire to create a unique birthing experience that includes low-intervention options for handling pain and letting labor progress on its own before medications, such as an epidural, are administered. “Today’s women have grown up feeling empowered to accomplish anything that they set out to do, and for some of them, this includes having a baby in the most natural way, if possible,” she said. “The doctors and nurses at Bon Secours have embraced the low-intervention birth model and wanted to support women by offering safe, proven tools such as nitrous oxide to help them manage pain during labor and delivery.”

A year ago, St. Mary’s was the first hospital in Virginia and one of the few hospitals nationwide to offer nitrous oxide to birthing women. A blend of 50 percent nitrous/50 percent oxygen is inhaled as needed, when contractions become more intense, to take the edge off the pain and enable women to stay completely awake and in control throughout labor.

“The longer you can go without the epidural, the shorter the labor,” said Dr. Hartle, who was on the medical team that brought nitrous to St. Mary’s after observing it in use at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Nitrous can help women accomplish a low-intervention birth if that’s what they want to do. Then, if they choose to use nitrous as a bridge to an epidural, they are satisfied that every option was attempted.”

At St. Mary’s, there were 200 requests for nitrous oxide during the first seven months of 2015, which already equals the total number of requests in 2014. “Nitrous is gaining in popularity as women hear friends talk about their positive experience with it, when they read about it online and when they learn more about how it works and what to expect,” added Dr. Hartle, who requested nitrous during the recent birth of her child. “It’s the perfect tool for some women. I encourage all of my patients to keep an open mind about nitrous as option to cope with pain.”

One patient, Jamie Roy and her husband, Brent, selected St. Mary’s Hospital for labor and delivery for a very specific reason. “We knew that St. Mary’s offered low-intervention options for pain management, and I really wanted an unmedicated delivery,” she said, knowing firsthand from her daughter Hazel’s birth a few years ago that this type of delivery could be quite painful. She prepared for the birth of her second child by engaging the services of a doula along with requesting nitrous oxide to help control pain and an ambulatory fetal monitor— another low-intervention birthing tool—to allow more freedom of movement.

“Nitrous made a huge difference,” she stated. “I felt some pain with contractions, but I could handle it and stay completely engaged in every aspect of labor. I also liked being able to walk around with the monitor instead of being confined to bed.”

Brent added, “I could really see that she was calmer and less apprehensive about contractions, and she could move around more which helped her labor progress.”

“I had a great doula who set the mood in the room to keep me relaxed and rested for this memorable occasion, and the nurses at St. Mary’s were great cheerleaders throughout the process,” said Jamie. “This birth experience with my son, Harvey, was everything I could have hoped for.”

Michelle is a young adult trying to strike a balance between accepting the latter and holding on for dear life to the former. She is a photographer, pop culture enthusiast, caffeine connoisseur, critically acclaimed napper, dog lover and champion of spending too much money at Target. She’s passionate about progress, community, and kindness and she is fully embracing the opportunity that working with Richmondmom affords her in pursuing those passions.