D.C. hospital now offers laughing gas for mothers in childbirth

We've all heard about laughing gas being used at the dentist. But what about during childbirth?

Medstar Washington Hospital Center is now offering it for the first time to mothers-to-be. And despite its name, one woman tells ABC7 this is no laughing matter.

Sara Dickson jumped at the chance to use laughing gas while giving birth to her daughter, Cora. But not for the reason you might think.

I didn't feel loopy at all," she says. "I wasn't cracking jokes at all."

The Midwifery Program at Medstar Washington Hospital Center is the first in the region to offer laughing gas during labor.

A woman is given a mask that delivers a 50/50 blend of nitrous oxide and oxygen. She chooses when and how much to use. And no one else can touch the mask.

Dickson says, unlike the epidural she had while delivering her first daughter, nitrous oxide did not block the pain.

"It didn't really take the pain away. It just made me more able to cope with it," she says.

But she wanted to avoid potential side effects with an epidural and have as natural an experience as she could.

"I felt the pain, I knew what I was experiencing, I could feel everythin,- which for me was important," she says.

Women worldwide have used nitrous oxide during childbirth for decades, but a growing number of U.S hospitals are starting to offer it now, too.

"It's not been used as much in US since we've become more accustomed to offering epidurals," says Loral Patchen, Director of Midwifery.

She says women opt for it because it's safe for mom and baby, it allows a mother to maintain full mobility, and it wears off in minutes.

Dickson says she's very happy with her decision-- and wants to spread the word to other women.

Patchen says this option works best when women wait to use it until the most active phase of labor.

And a woman can still have an epidural after using nitrous oxide, if needed.