Swimming Babies: Your Intro to Water Birth

With the sudden increase in natural births, many families are now interested in the use of water for labor and birth.  You may have heard of some benefits of birthing in the water, but lots have also come to birthing professionals with common fears or myths.  Let’s dive right in and learn about how water can help you have your baby!

What is water birth?

When babies are born in water that is approximately the same temperature as mom’s body heat, they have been born via water birth.  Moms who cannot give birth in the water can also still benefit from laboring in a tub, so don’t think you’re out of options!

What are the benefits of water birth?

  • Babies spend around 40 weeks living in warm water, so the transition from the birth canal to equally warm water is much less stressful.
  • Laboring and birthing In body temperature water can significantly reduce the pains, pressure or waves that happen during labor, especially during the transition period (the hardest part of labor, from 7 to 10 centimeters.) You can easily change your position in the water or grab on to the side and float your pain away. (Eberhard, Geissbeuhler & Stein, 2005)
  • Being in the water could reduce the time that you are in labor!  Lots of women report stepping into the tub and going from halfway dilated to fully dilated and pushing within one hour!
  • Water birth could reduce the amount of tearing during the pushing phase since the tissues are well hydrated and mom can easily control her pushing with less pain.  It also reduces the chance of an episiotomy that may not be truly needed since a care provider can only access the woman’s vaginal region to perform surgical birth methods if she is removed from the water.
  • Water birth can reduce the amount of maternal blood loss.   (Eberhard, Geissbeuhler & Stein, 2004)
  • Babies born in the water tend to be calmer, quieter and ready to breastfeed.

I heard that there can be problems with a water birth, what are they? Are they true?

  • My baby will drown

Not so.  In a water birth, babies do not drown upon birth, as long as the mom’s pelvis is fully submerged in the water.  Healthy babies have something called a “dive reflex” which keeps them from taking breaths until air hits their faces.  Before they breathe air, they are still doing all of their breathing through their umbilical cord, which should stay uncut until it is white and limp.

A newborn baby’s lungs are still used to inhaling and expelling water for a short time following childbirth. Babies born to both low risk mothers in and out of the water showed no signs of change in health outcome. (Pucek, Pellantova & Vebera, 2003)  Your provider will discuss any concerns that could cause your baby to breathe before they are ready during the prenatal period so you can decide if water birth is right for you.

  • My baby and I will get an infection if I go to the bathroom in the water in labor

It is true that a mom might have a bowel movement in the water, or that a baby may give off meconium (the baby’s first poop) in the water.

However, these are factors that would also be a risk while birthing on a bed, with the possibility of added sources of infection such as gloved hands from a provider or nurse, surgical instruments or instruments inserted into the vagina, such as amnihooks (which artificially break the water.)  It’s about weighing the possible risks and benefits for your situation.

  • You have to have a home birth or birth center to birth in the water

Absolutely not!  While home  or a birth center birth may be a safe option for moms who fit in the low risk category, many hospitals are beginning to offer water birth for natural birthing moms, along with Jacuzzi jet labor tubs for mamas who may not be able to birth in the water, but want the water benefits.

  • I will HAVE to have a natural birth if I fill up the labor tub! 

Again, this is your birth experience! If the baby is not crowning, you still have options.  If you are at home, you could transfer into the hospital to request pain medications.  If you are in the hospital, you can discuss your pain relief options with your provider. Which leads us to our next common myth…

  • I can’t labor in the tub if I have an induction, right?

This is actually becoming a big obstetric myth, as hospitals become savvy to the benefits of having induced mamas labor actively, whether it’s walking the halls, bouncing on a ball or laboring in warm water, as this can help even an artificially induced labor progress faster with less pain.

I recently attended an induced birth where mama did all of these things.  She began pushing within an hour of getting in the tub!  If you have an induction, you can request waterproof, wireless monitors which will allow you free range of motion.

If this is not possible, there are some other options for monitoring during an induction that can allow you to labor where you’d like.  Ask your care provider if induction becomes a true necessity.

  • I cannot have a water birth if I am high risk

This is partially true, dependent on what types of risk are involved.  Some complications that make water birth unsafe might include: full placenta previa (which at term will require a cesarean section for the safety of mom and baby), a situation where mom and/or baby are in measurable distress, maternal illness or disease and other factors which should be discussed with your care provider before birth.  Even in some of these scenarios, it may still be safe to labor in the water with the proper monitoring.

Come armed with information and remember: you are their paying customer.  At the end of the day, you control your care and you are always free to find someone who is more willing to discuss safe options for you and your baby.  Even though a healthy baby is the best thing, it’s also just as important for mamas to walk away from birth with a healthy, empowering experience. (Written by Cara Del Favero)

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