With a multitude of birthing options, some women choose an alternative method known as water birth. Although some risks are associated with water birth, those who have done it and many experienced healthcare providers taut the physical, mental and emotional benefits of water birth.
Water birth is when women labor and sometimes deliver their babies in a small pool of warm water. A water birth may happen at home, at a birthing center or in a hospital environment. It should always be facilitated by an experienced healthcare provider, which is usually a midwife or obstetrician.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recognizes some benefits of being in water during the first stage of labor. But they don’t find sufficient evidence in the benefit of finishing labor and delivery in water and cite an increased potential for risk during this critical stage in childbirth.
The Benefits of Water Birth
Experts and moms who have experienced water birth alike have expressed these potential benefits of water birth:
- Warm water is soothing and helps mothers relax during the intense process of childbirth.
- Buoyancy in water makes mothers weightless so they have more freedom of movement to labor in various positions independently.
- Blood circulation tends to improve in water, making contractions easier and blood flow to the baby greater.
- Babies are accustomed to the sensation of being in water since they developed in amniotic fluid during gestation. A water environment may be more familiar and welcoming to them during birth.
- As blood flow increases, mothers have more energy to tackle labor.
- Water births tend to require less drug intervention to speed up labor and to manage pain.
- Water birth helps stabilize blood pressure that occurs when the body is under stress.
- Mothers who labor in water have less stress hormones like cortisol, noradrenaline and catecholamines that can adversely affect the baby.
- Water also encourages the release of natural pain relief from endorphins.
- Newborn babies tend to do better with less traumatic and less stressful births.
- Water makes the perineum more elastic and therefore reduces tears.
- Mothers are more emotionally and mentally relaxed when they are physically relaxed.
The Risks of Water Birth
Water birth does pose several risks that can make it more dangerous for mothers and babies. These include:
- If an emergency situation arises, moving the mother out of the pool into a bed or an operating room would waste time that could make a critical difference in the outcome for mother and baby.
- Although rare, water could enter the mother’s bloodstream and cause aspiration.
- Water birth may cause your baby to get an infection.
- Your baby’s temperature may become too hot or too cold during a water birth.
- Your baby may drown.
- If the umbilical cord is compromised while the baby is in the birth canal, he may try to take a breath and would then breathe in water.
- Also, the umbilical cord could snap during water birth if the baby is not lifted carefully. Water birth makes it more difficult for the provider to handle the baby.
Water birth is not recommended for anyone with a high-risk pregnancy. This includes women who have preeclampsia, who have high blood pressure, who have a disease or infection, whose babies are large or premature, who are having multiples or whose babies are breech.
Once you’ve weighed the benefits and risks with your doctor, if you do decide to proceed with a water birth, make sure you and your baby are constantly monitored and have a back-up plan in place in case of an emergency situation. Also, make sure your providers are helping keep the water sanitary and at the proper temperature to reduce risk of infection.