Is Childbirth in Water a Good Idea?
Some basic information on the childbirth trend
Many parents wonder if it is a safe idea to deliver their baby in water. As the trend grows and more parents share their experiences and videos on social media, more parents are considering this “alternative” birthing method.
There are two different ways that birthing mothers can use birthing pools in their labor and delivery. One is to use a hydrotherapy method, which means to do all or some of the laboring inside of a birthing pool of water. Furthermore, a birthing pool can be used to actually deliver your baby while submerged in water. Currently, in the US approximately 10% of birthing hospitals offer birthing pools as a labor and delivery option for delivering mothers.
It is important to note that studies are conflicting as to the safety of immersion births for babies. As with any other form of birthing that you are considering, you should do thorough research and be well acquainted with the procedure and any risks that may be involved before making your decision.
This article will address the process of child birthing in water, discuss how this alternative form of birthing is performed, and provide some of the pros and cons of childbirth in water.
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Whether you choose to labor in water or give birth in water, or both, you will use what is called a birthing pool, which is kind of like a small swimming pool. Many women report that laboring in a body of water is more comfortable for them and helps to ease their pain by allowing them to move around and to get into positions otherwise complicated by gravity or restricted by surfaces such as a bed or chair.
Laboring in water
If you choose to labor in water this can be done at a birthing center, a hospital, or in your home with the assistance of your hospital staff or midwife. If you intend to give birth at a birthing center or hospital you should check in advance to see that this method of laboring is available to you.
According to Web MD, some of the benefits of laboring in water include:
- Reduced pain
- Reduced time spent laboring
- Helps to avoid anesthesia medication
Many women report it also helps them to be more comfortable during labor, to move about more freely, and to relax during the laboring process.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Released released a study and statement In 2017 regarding the safety of water laboring and supports its use in the first stage of labor with the following statement:
“Immersion in water during the first stage of labor may be appealing to some and may be associated with decreased pain or use of anesthesia and decreased duration of labor; however, there is no evidence that immersion during the first stage of labor otherwise improves perinatal outcomes. Immersion therapy during the first stage of labor should not prevent or inhibit other elements of care, including appropriate maternal and fetal monitoring.” — American Academy of Pediatrics
How is water laboring done?
To distinguish between laboring in water and birthing in water, the distinction is made by whether or not the woman is in active labor having contractions but not fully dilated versus full dilation and active pushing. During the time when the woman is having contractions but isn’t actively delivering her baby is the time when water laboring is typically done.
A birthing pool is used and is filled with comfortably warm water that is not too hot. Many women who do laboring at home will often take a warm bath during this uncomfortable time of contractions, finding that it helps to relieve their pain and make them more comfortable. The same is true of birthing pools which utilizes a larger water source that allows for even more ease of motion and relaxing. To keep with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this process should not impede medical examinations or monitoring.
Some women opt to use showering as a form of hydrotherapy as well but it is not necessarily the same thing as immersion during labor. Just to be clear, by immersion it is meant that the lower part of the body Is immersed in water with the birthing mother’s head and face out of the water. The birthing mother is welcome to submerge up to her neck and whatever positions are comfortable for her while she goes through contractions and the laboring process.
A fetal monitor cannot be used consistently throughout this process, meaning underwater, so it is done intermittently. If there are concerns with the fetal heart rate during this laboring process your doctor or midwife may suggest that some time be spent out of the tub so that further fetal monitoring can take place.
The birthing mother can relax in the birthing pool and find whatever positions make her most comfortable, taking advantage of the buoyancy from the water while emerging occasionally for fetal monitoring and cervical exams.
Today’s Parent warns against the use of your at-home whirlpool tub for water laboring. It is not as simple as finding a tub of water to use. The laboring tub should be a controlled and sterile environment for the health and safety of both mother and baby. Also, not all women will be eligible to attempt water laboring. It needs to be a complication-free pregnancy Which has reached a gestational age of 37 weeks. Most advice suggests getting a midwife to help with the process.
Birthing in water
Birthing in water is a bit more complex and is more heavily criticized in the medical field. Studies have not shown the safety of this process and medical professionals fear there could be complications such as drowning, rupturing or tearing of the placenta, or exposure to the baby of infections, pathogens, or infectious diseases that could be spread through the water.
If you choose to have childbirth in water, it is important that you use a delivery staff who is supportive and prepare to have a backup plan if your support team feels you should cease the water birth and deliver your baby “on land.” A land birth is what a typical birth is called outside of delivering in water, for example, giving birth in a hospital bed or birthing unit.
If you choose to have a water birth at home you will need to prepare some supplies. Danielle Lasher details this beautifully in her article What Supplies Do You Need For A Water Birth At Home? Here are some of the items she suggests for you to prepare as you get ready for a home water birth:
- The most important item you will need to procure is a birthing pool. You can check with your midwife to see if they have one that they supply. The birthing pool needs to be large enough to accommodate the mother being submerged at least up to her belly and possibly for a birthing partner to be in the water with her for support if that is desired. Some people opt to use a small kiddie pool for this purpose but you can also use a larger, more expensive birthing pool.
- The birthing pool should be lined with a pool liner before the pool is filled with water. Even if you use a small kiddie pool you will want to use a pool liner. The more expensive birthing pools typically come with a pool liner, which is kind of like a big plastic sheet that goes inside of the birthing pool to line the bottom and sides of the pool.
- You and your partner will want to be able to strain any floating materials from the water. Any type of strainer or net will serve this purpose. You want to keep the water as clean from materials as possible.
- A reverse pump will be used after the birth to pump water from the pool. It shouldn’t be used while anyone is still in the birthing pool.
- Any other equipment typically used for birth such as a fetal monitoring device.
- A floating thermometer which will help to monitor the temperature of the water.
- Hoses for filling and emptying the pool.
Other supplies you may want to have on hand:
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Water bottle, fluid replacement drinks or honey
- A bucket for vomiting
- Paper towels
- Video equipment or camera
- Ice chips
- Ice packs
How is a water birth done?
Note: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Does admit to the benefits of laboring in water but advises against remaining in the water after the point of advanced cervical dilation and into the delivery of your baby. This is mostly due to the lack of medical studies proving benefits and disproving any threats to the health of both mother and baby.
If you choose to have a water birth, you will remain in the birthing tub of water throughout the remainder of your laboring and throughout the delivery process. You are free to move about in the water and take advantage of the buoyancy of the water to help you find comfortable positions for both your labor and your delivery. You may notice a variety of colors or materials floating in the water that will be cleaned out as you go through the delivery process. This could include blood, mucus, or feces.
The delivery itself isn’t that much different only that you are submerged in water. It is a bit more difficult to do fetal monitoring as it cannot be done in the water. Your doctor or midwife will help to advise you on whether or not you should continue with the water birth or be removed to birth on land. Your baby is born into the water and then lifted gently from the water to take their first breath. Your midwife or doctor will help with this process.
It is not advised to try to do this alone. You will need people there to help with the baby once the baby is born into the water to ensure that the baby will not drown and that the umbilical cord is not damaged or wrapped around the baby. Many women choose to deliver the placenta outside of the tub.
Most women that choose a water birth do so because they feel the delivery is much less stressful on their baby and a more gentle way to bring their baby into this world. Higher birth satisfaction rates are common with water births. Many women opt to leave the water pool moments before delivery and give birth “on land” to be sure the birthing process goes smoothly. But for those who opt to remain in the water tub, many report it being a more pleasant birthing experience.
Water helps to soften the perineum as well which may help to reduce the need for episiotomies and the presence of vaginally tearing. It also helps the mother to deliver in a more relaxed state. Here is a beautiful retelling of one woman’s water birthing story.
Are water births ok for anyone?
Water births are not for everyone. While scientifically we don’t have a lot of data regarding the safety of water births there are some recommendations for certain parameters to be met for women to consider a water birth.
Here are some parameters to meet and things to think about when considering a water birth:
- A relatively uncomplicated and healthy pregnancy. If you have had any type of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, dizziness or fainting, or any other kind of concern your doctor or midwife may recommend that you not consider a water birth. This way as you are birthing and delivering they can keep a better check on how your labor and delivery are progressing.
- Gestational age of at least 37 weeks. Water births are not recommended for babies who are delivering early. Keep this in mind as you plan for a water birth and have a back up plan in case your little one comes before 37 weeks.
- Your personal wishes for the birth of your baby.
- Cost of the procedure and the logistics of where to deliver and supplies needed. It is typically cheaper to have a home birth which is how many water births are done. Water births can also be done in birthing centers. Check ahead with your hospital or birthing enter for the costs involved and whether your insurance will cover any of these costs.
- Access to emergency care should a problem arise during delivery for you or your baby.
Some complications could include:
- The baby drowning.
- Tearing of the placenta, especially if the baby is pulled from the water quickly to prevent drowning.
- Aspiration of the meconium by the baby.
- Risk of infection.
- Risk of pneumonia.
Water births are just one option available to women who are seeking an alternative birthing method. Many women want to reduce the trauma of birth on their baby which is what makes a water birth so appealing. As with any birthing decision, it is important to do your research and find out as much as you can before that day comes. If you are working with a midwife, you should be able to ask questions about their experience with water birth. Whatever you choose to do, we are here as a supportive community of parents. We know how personal and important these decisions are. Here are a few sites to help you get started on your research.
This article is brought to you by our contributing writers and parents here at the Babienet Parenting Community, where we value the stories of parents just like you! We welcome you to share your journey with us.
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Christina M Ward is a mom, grandmother, and writer of lots and lots of words. When she’s not busy obsessing over writing poetry and well-living articles, she is out in nature exploring or doing needlepoint crafts in front of Netflix. She loves books and reading, learning geeky things about nature, and helping other people live their best life.
Is Childbirth in Water a Good Idea? Provides some basic information about childbirth and laboring in water for expectant mothers. Pros and cons of childbirth in water.