search buttonmobile navigation expand button

Back to Search Results

Wireless monitors, nitrous oxide help improve birthing experience

Published on Friday, May 03, 2019

The Birthing Center at McLaren Greater Lansing has a well-deserved reputation for providing patients with superior care during the labor, delivery, and postpartum period. And a pair of grants from the hospital’s foundation have helped to enhance what the Center is known for.

The most recent grant led to the purchase of four wireless fetal-monitoring systems and brought the Center’s total to eight.

The monitoring systems enable pregnant women to move about during labor and that can help them progress more quickly and reduce their chances of delivering a baby via a cesarean section.

“We like our patients to be mobile while in labor,” said Darcy Tyrrell, manager of the Birthing Center. “We like them to be sitting on a birthing ball, sitting in a rocking chair, or walking the halls. Being mobile also helps them deal with the pain better. When you’re confined to a bed, there is a tendency to anticipate the contractions before they come.”

The benefits of being active during labor have been known for years. But until recently, monitoring the heart rate of a woman and her unborn child, as well as her contractions, usually required her to either be in bed, or within a few feet of a monitor that was wired to sensors affixed to her abdomen via velcro straps. If she needed to use the restroom, the wires connected to the sensors had to be disconnected from the monitor, and then re-connected when she returned.

Things began to change a few years ago when small, wireless, fetal monitoring systems came onto the market.

Christy Koren, a nurse who has worked in Labor and Delivery for 20 years, encourages every patient – who will be giving birth to a single child – to use one of the monitors because she wants them to move around before they get to a stage when they may choose to get an epidural anesthesia that will require them to be stationary.

“Moms using the wireless systems for the first time really appreciate it,” Koren said. “They remember previous deliveries with the ultrasound monitoring systems and know the limitations where a woman cannot be more than three feet from the monitor to track the baby’s heart rate.”

The wireless monitors are not recommended for women who are experiencing difficulties during labor or expecting to give birth to two or more babies. But Amy Guysky, a nurse in Labor and Delivery for 28 years, said their ability to remotely monitor a baby’s heart rate is crucial.

Rachel Turek, special events coordinator for the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, gave birth to her first child, Alexander, in September of last year. She checked into the hospital around 9 o’clock on a Saturday night and gave birth a little after noon the next day. She was fitted with a wireless monitor shortly after being admitted, and wore it through her delivery.

She liked being able to move around and said that made a big difference in her “comfort level.” It also gave her and her husband, Brandon, a sense of independence because nurses could monitor her remotely and did not need to constantly come into her room to check on her.

“We had some time to ourselves and that was nice,” Turek said. “We were able to talk and relax and go through the contractions together.”

The rates of C-sections at McLaren Greater Lansing have dropped significantly since the wireless monitors went into use early last year. The rate was 35.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to 22.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. That figure is better than the national recommended benchmark of 23.8 percent established in 2015 by The Leapfrog Group.

Nitrous oxide has also been credited for the drop in C-sections because using it can reduce the length of time a woman will need an epidural, and occasionally it leads to a patient not requesting the anesthesia. An epidural greatly reduces the pain of contractions. But there are times when it can affect the patient’s ability to push because they may not feel that natural urge to do so. This can increase the time spent pushing, lead to exhaustion, and contribute to primary C-section rates.

Nitrous oxide first became available to patients in the Birthing Center last year, thanks to a grant from the Foundation. The gas is self-administered by the patient through a face mask and can help reduce the pain of contractions. It acts quickly and its effects wear off once the patient takes a few breaths outside of the face mask.

Dr. Rochelle Hughes said nitrous oxide is meant to be a “bridge” to an epidural, not a replacement for it.

“If a patient can stay in control of their contractions during early labor,” she said, “it can help when they go to an epidural.”

Dr. Jennifer Lee, who is in her fourth year of the OB/Gyn Residency Program at McLaren Greater Lansing, said nitrous oxide helped her last year when she was in labor with her daughter, Amelia.

“I wanted to progress a little more before going to the epidural,” she said. “And the nitrous oxide helped me do that.”

While the wireless monitors and nitrous oxide have improved the birthing experience for numerous women at McLaren Greater Lansing, Tyrrell said nurses have also benefitted because they enjoy educating patients about ways to get a baby into the optimum position for delivery and dealing with the pain of labor.

“Our goal is for our patients to have the best experience,” she said. “We want every patient that comes in to feel like they are part of our family. And I feel like we do a good job of that. A lot of our nurses have been here a long time and have a lot of emotional investment in this place. They really care about the patients and their experience.”

To learn more about the Birthing Center at McLaren Greater Lansing, please call (517) 975-7300 or visit mclaren.org/lansingbirthingcenter.

If you would like to make a gift to support the Birthing Center or another unit, department, or program at the hospital, please contact McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation at (517) 975-7100 or mglfoundation@mclaren.org, or visit mclaren.org/lansingfoundation.