Have You Ever Considered a Water Birth? Here’s What You Need to Know.
“Water is revered in every culture for its life-sustaining and healing properties. Women have been using water in labour and birth for millennia . Ancient Egyptian petroglyphs depict water births of babies destined to become priests or priestesses. The oral histories of indigenous peoples on every continent – from New Zealand to Mongolia, Panama to Japan – include stories about women giving birth in the ocean tide pools, in streams and in shallow lakes” (http://www.pomegranate-midwives.com)
Water birth has had the persistent misconception of being something that ‘hippies’ do. But it has a long history and has become an option increasingly requested by mothers across the world. It is also more and more available in hospital settings, and with qualified midwives who can facilitate it at home. In 1992, the UK House of Commons recommended that woman have the option of water birth whenever possible, resulting in nearly half of all maternity hospitals in the UK installing birthing pools.
So what do you need to know?
1- Think about when you’ve had stomach cramps, aching muscles, or even just a sense of fatigue. Didn’t a hot bath or shower just make you feel better? We spend 9 months in water before we come into the world, and there is something inherently soothing and secure about being surrounded by it in a safe space.
2- Being immersed by water can help give an increased sense of control and comfort. In terms of buoyancy and relative weightlessness, it makes it easier to move and change positions, and to feel physically supported from all sides. Because it reduces tension, being in water can ease the contractions or at least make them easier to cope with. It also leads to lower production of stress hormones, which can reduce anxiety and hypertension, and result in lesser need for pain meds.
3- The overall physical release of tension relaxes the pelvic floor, improves circulation, and helps the cervix open faster, potentially decreasing labour duration. It also means you’re less likely to need forceps or a vacuum and other interventions, and less likely to have a serious tear. Overall, this will usually lead to a gentler experience for the baby as well.
4- Studies on water birth have shown similar or lower rates of infection in mothers and babies, and similar or better results on the baby’s wellbeing tests post-birth, and similar or lower rates of baby deaths.
5- One of the most favoured things about a water birth is the sense of autonomy, privacy, and intimacy it gives the mother, which stimulates the flow of labour hormones (particularly oxytocin and beta-endorphins which help with the pain). One study found only 24% of mothers undergoing a water birth used pain meds as opposed to 50% of mothers undergoing other birthing methods.
6- Increased popularity of water births means that qualified professionals in various settings are well equipped to accommodate them in a sanitized and reassuring way. if you are assessed as having a low-risk pregnancy, water birth is a safe option for you. Care providers monitor and assess you throughout the birthing process, so if necessary you can shift to a more conventional approach. There are waterproof birth devices including foetal monitors to continuously check on baby and mother’s vital signs.
1) Whether it is a home water birth, in a hospital, or at a birthing center, there are certain situations and pregnancies that make a water birth inadvisable. You should always be assessed for risk factors well in advance and on the day, and allow your birth plans to adjust accordingly. Your chosen providers need to be experienced and equipped enough to make those decisions.
2) Overall, the precautions for a water birth are the ability to ensure you have a healthy and low-risk pregnancy, be at 37 weeks gestation or later, able to be in a warm bath between 36-37.5 Celsius, be on no strong pain medications, and be prepared to leave the water birth if there are any concerns for your safety or the baby’s.
3) According to Marra Francis, M.D., a gynaecologist in San Antonio, women with the following risk factors should opt out of water birth: “Group B Strep positive cultures, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, macrosomia, intrauterine growth restriction, prematurity, unproven pelvies”. Always talk to your health-care provider when making the decision!
Overall, a water birth is a personal choice that has to fit with your comfort level, birth plan vision, and the level of care provision and expertise that is available where you live. But it can and has been a profound experience for many women, and we highly recommend considering it if you are planning a family!