Water Birth

image001Imagine giving birth to your baby in a warm tub of water. This process, called water birth, is believed to reduce stress during labor and childbirth. The baby who has grown inside the mother's uterus for about nine months, surrounded by amniotic fluid, will be experiencing a transition to a somewhat similar environment. This is why some women, together with their obstetricians or midwives, opt to undergo labor and deliver their babies in water to reduce stress and complications of childbirth.

What Is Water Birth?

During water birth, a mother gives birth to her baby in a tub or pool, which may be located in a hospital, a birthing center, or even at home. A woman may undergo labor in the water and move out of the tub to deliver her baby, or stay in the water and give birth. The midwife, nurse or doctor then lifts the baby out of the tub.

In a hospital, both mother and baby receive medical care which is similar to that given to them if delivery took place on a hospital bed. A Doppler device designed for use underwater monitors the heartbeats of the baby during the process. This may or may not be done when the process takes place at home or in a birth center. Intravenous (IV) medications may also be given to the mother during water birth.

What Is It Like to Have a Water Birth?

The mother sits in an upright position in a birth pool, which gives gravity the advantage as the baby is delivered. It should be quite comfortable, as it is easier to push out the baby into water than air. The tub and the water support the mother's body.

Although it might feel uncomfortable when you accidentally move your bowels as your baby is delivered, there is no need to worry because it is easy to clean up.

After delivery, the baby is immediately brought out of water--head first to allow him/her to start breathing. This must be carefully done to avoid snapping the umbilical cord, which happens rarely (<1 in 200 cases), when the cord is unusually short. However, this is not life-threatening, especially if a trained midwife or nurse is attending to the delivery.

Many women who have undergone water birth give a positive response to their experience, especially when pushing, where it is noted to be very helpful.

If you want to see how a home water birth is carried on, you can watch the video below:

What Are the Benefits of Water Birth?

1. The Potential Benefits of Water Birth for the Mother

  • The soothing and relaxing effects of warm water.
  • The increase in energy provided by water during the late stage of labor
  • Buoyancy reduces the mother’s weight and allows free movement and easy positioning.
  • Buoyancy promotes efficient contractions of the uterus and improves blood circulation and oxygenation of the uterus; this results in less pain for you and increased oxygen for your baby.
  • Water immersion helps lower blood pressure, which may increase due to anxiety.
  • Reduction of stress hormones and increased production of endorphins, which inhibit pain.
  • Water relaxes the perineum, which becomes more elastic and reduces tearing and need for stitches.
  • Physical as well as mental relaxation helps you focus more on the birth process.
  • Being under water provides some sense of privacy, which reduces inhibitions and anxiety.

2. The Potential Benefits of Water Birth for the Baby

  • Water provides a similar environment as an amniotic sac with fluid.
  • Stress of childbirth is reduced, which increases reassurance and security.

Want to get more professional advice on water birth? Check out the video below:

What Are the Risks of Water Birth?

There are few studies on water births, but so far, available data show that there have been few cases where babies were seriously harmed. Some studies have shown that water births may be safer than bed births.

Some of the potential risks involve:

  • Brain injury can occur due to lack of oxygenation underwater.
  • Swallowing water can cause electrolyte problems in the baby.
  • Contaminated water can cause serious infection.
  • Water entering the mother's bloodstream can cause water embolism.
  • Babies may aspirate or inhale water if the baby is stressed and gasps for air (rare).
  • The umbilical cord might snap as the baby is taken to the water surface.
  • If the water is too hot, overheating and dehydration can occur. This may be prevented by keeping the water temperature at 97º F.

Discuss these risks with your health provider.

What Conditions Are Not Ideal for Water Birth?

Not all women are able to undergo water birth for the following reasons:

  • Presence of herpes infection, which can be transmitted to the baby in water.
  • The baby is in breech position.
  • History of maternal infection or excessive bleeding.
  • Mothers who are having twins or multiple babies.
  • Preterm labor occurs (the baby is not yet due for two weeks or more).
  • Severe meconium staining. Meconium is the baby's poo, which may come out during birth. A little meconium may be normal, but too much can increase a baby's risk of inhaling it, causing infection. If this happens, the mother may be asked to step out of the tub or lift her pelvis out of water during birth.
  • Preeclampsia or toxemia of pregnancy (high blood pressure during pregnancy or labor) may increase the risk of complications for the mother and baby.

How to Prepare for a Water Birth

Tips

Descriptions

Ask a doctor

First ask your doctor or midwife if equipment (a special tub) for water birth is available in your area.

Check the hospital policies

Check if hospital policies allow water birth and you prefer to give birth in a hospital.

Find a birthing tub

If you choose to give birth at home, find out if you can rent or buy a birthing tub online. You can also check if expenses may be covered by insurance.

Contact local birth center

Contact a birth center in your locality to see if they offer water birth options.