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St. Luke's Offers Nitrous Oxide in the Birthing Center

Category: Patient Stories
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Dr. Susan Goltz, St. Luke's Obstetrics & Gyencology AssociatesPublished in Moms & Dads Today magazine, January/February 2016

Laughing gas = Happy moms

St. Luke’s First in Northland to Offer Nitrous Oxide During Labor

If you’ve ever had a cavity filled, you may have been offered nitrous oxide (commonly referred to as “laughing gas”) to help relieve your anxiety. Long a staple in the world of dentistry, nitrous oxide therapy has made its debut at the St. Luke’s Birthing Center as a way to help mothers in active labor relax and focus.

Dr. Susan Goltz, an OB-GYN at St. Luke’s Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates, said, “Nitrous oxide (N20) is a great option for us to offer our patients, and our patients have been very appreciative about its availability during labor. It’s a less-invasive option than an epidural, and is very easy to administer.”

Dr. Goltz described the application. “A patient who requests nitrous oxide is given a mask that she will hold over her face. Typically, she’ll start to breathe into the mask 30 to 60 seconds prior to a contraction, and will continue breathing nitrous oxide through the contraction. Throughout the process, the patient is in control of how much nitrous she would like.”

As to its effects, Dr. Goltz described it like this: “It technically does not block labor pains. What it does is cause a sense of what we call ‘pleasant well being’ that helps women relax during labor, which in doing so can help with the pains of labor. The nitrous oxide is an extremely fast-acting agent, and completely clears out of your system in seconds, with no effect on your baby. It is basically an ideal therapy.”

A history of N20

Nitrous oxide was commonly used during labor in the early 1900s. The problem with the technology then was that the mask wasn’t capable of capturing excess or expelled N20. The result was that everyone in the room—physicians, nurses and staff alike—were also exposed to the gas. Said Dr. Goltz, “You want your team to be relaxed—just maybe not that relaxed.”

As the capture technology improved, nitrous oxide was adopted throughout Europe, where it has been used for years. However, outside of a select few hospitals, N20 never really caught on in America—until recently.

“It was our incredible nurses in the St. Luke’s Birthing Center who actually brought this to our attention as something that they thought our patients could benefit from,” said Dr. Goltz. “After consulting with some hospitals who had already adopted nitrous oxide therapy, we enthusiastically endorsed the idea—and as a result, we are the first hospital in the Northland, and one of the first in Minnesota, to offer this to our patients.”

Patient approved

Nitrous oxide therapy also received a ringing endorsement from Jessica G., who recently gave birth to her second child at St. Luke’s. “With my first child, while I had wanted to give birth as naturally as possible, I had severe back labor, which was really hard. After laboring for a while, I got an epidural. And while the epidural blocked the pain, I really couldn’t feel any aspect of the birthing process. As a result, I kind of felt disconnected from the birth.”

As Jessica approached her third trimester and was talking through her concerns, her physician mentioned N20 as an option. “To me, it sounded ideal—it would help me relax and focus, and would still allow me to have the natural childbirth I was hoping for,” said Jessica.

When Jessica was admitted to St. Luke’s and her labor progressed, the staff showed her how to administer the nitrous oxide. “It is really easy to use. There is a mask that is attached to a hose, and you just hold it up to your nose and breathe,” said Jessica. “I started breathing it right before a contraction, and within several deep breaths, I could feel its effects.”

When asked to describe its effects, Jessica paused, looking for the right words. “Think of the most relaxed you’ve ever been, like you are going to fall asleep as soon as you hit the bed.” She laughed and continued, “Well, that’s not exactly it, but it’s close.”

As to how it impacted her labor, Jessica said, “It helped me focus on breathing and working through each contraction, because I wasn’t just focusing on the pain of labor. It also helped me recover more quickly after each contraction, and would wear off gradually after about 30 seconds. It’s important for moms to know that it isn’t a pain tool—it’s a relaxation tool that can really help with the anxiety of labor. With the help of this therapy, I was able to deliver my second daughter without anesthesia, and as a result, felt like I bonded more quickly with her.”

A great addition

According to Dr. Goltz, nitrous oxide therapy is exactly the kind of innovation that the St. Luke’s Birthing Center seeks to bring to its patients. “It’s simple to administer, which cuts down on complexity. Having things that are new and safe and good—that’s a perfect fit for what we’re about here.”

For questions about nitrous oxide therapy for your delivery, contact the St. Luke’s Birthing Center at 218.249.5605.