Water birth is a method of giving birth immersed in a tub of warm water. Proponents believe this method to be safe and provides many benefits for both mother and infant, including pain relief and a less traumatic birth experience for the baby. Women who have chosen water birth describe it as being peaceful, joyous, comforting, and more relaxing than a “land birth.” Critics argue that the procedure introduces unnecessary risks to the infant such as infection and water inhalation.
Benefits for Mother:
- Water is soothing, comforting, relaxing. Water birth is a form of hydrotherapy which, in studies, has been shown to be an effective form of pain management for a variety of conditions especially lower back pain (a common complaint of women in labor).
- In the later stages of labor, the water seems to increase the woman’s energy.
- The buoyancy lessens her body weight, allows free movement and new positioning.
- Buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and better blood circulation, resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.
- Immersion in water often helps lower high blood pressure caused by anxiety.
- Water seems to alleviate stress-related hormones, allowing the mother’s body to produce endorphins, which are pain-inhibitors.
- Water causes the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, which reduces the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for an episiotomy and stitches.
- As the laboring women relaxes physically she is able to relax mentally, concentrating her efforts inward on the birth process.
- The water provides a sense of privacy, which releases inhibitions, anxiety, and fears.
Benefits for Baby:
- Provides a similar (warm, watery) environment as the amniotic sac.
- Eases the stress of the birth, providing reassurance and security.
Risks involved in Water Births:
Although there are no proven disadvantages to birthing in water, it is still a controversial means of delivery. Critics cite possible risks, including:
- Water aspiration. If the baby is experiencing stress in the birth canal or the umbilical cord becomes kinked or twisted, the baby may gasp for air, possibly inhaling water into the lungs. This would be rare because babies do not inhale air until they are exposed to air. They receive oxygen through the umbilical cord until they start to breathe on their own or until the cord is cut.
- The umbilical cord could snap as the baby is brought to the surface of the water. This is preventable by using caution when lifting the baby up to the mother’s chest.
- Another concern is that the water could increase the risk of infection. However, studies to date do not show increased risk of transferring bacteria from infant to mother or mother to infant.
- Slowed labor, due to the documented relaxing effects of water, may be seen as a benefit rather than a rsik. Laboring in water is sometimes associated with a decrease in the intensity of contractions, and is thus thought to slow labor.
- Maternal blood loss. For care providers who are inexperienced in delivery in water, it may be difficult to assess the amount of maternal blood loss. Although there are well-developed methods of determining maternal blood loss in water, many providers prefer to deliver the placenta out of water for this reason.
Water births may be discouraged in the following situations, and should be discussed with your health care provider:
- If you have Herpes: Herpes transfers easily in water, so you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
- If your baby is breech: Though water birth has been done with bottom or feet first presentations you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
- If you have been diagnosed with excessive bleeding or maternal infection.
- If you are having multiples: Though water births have been successful with twins around the world, you will want to discuss this thoroughly with your health care provider.
- If preterm labor is expected: If a baby is two weeks or more prior to due date, water birth is not recommended.
- If there is severe meconium: Mild to moderate meconium is fairly normal. Since meconium floats to the surface in a tub, your health care provider will watch for it and remove it immediately, or help you out of the tub.
- If you have toxemia or preeclampsia: You will want to thoroughly discuss this with your health care provider.
For more information, check out:
Wikipedia (includes history and studies associated with water births)
YourWaterBirth.com (Offers supplies for an at-home water birth, such as pools, hoses, thermometers, protective floor covers, birth kits, and more)