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Healthy Pregnancy Series: Water Birth

admin April 27, 2011

When you’re expecting a baby, you have a lot of choices.  What type of care, where to deliver, which tests you should receive, and so on.  But you can also choose the type of birth that you want.  Water birth is one of the options.

What is Water Birth?

A water birth is when a mother is in a special birthing tub or “pool” (or a bathtub, if you have a decent one) during labor and delivery.  Not all mothers actually push their babies out into the water — some decide to get out just for the pushing and birth, but labor in the water up until then — but many do.

Water birth isn’t a new concept; it’s been going on for quite awhile.  But it’s relatively new here.  A lot of hospitals aren’t equipped with tubs.  It’s more common for water births to occur in birthing centers or at home, where non-medical pain relief is used more frequently.

A tub is set up and water is kept around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  There are birthing tubs that can be purchased with heaters, in order to keep the water at the appropriate temperature.  Those are more expensive, though.  Kiddie pools can also be used, and are as cheap as $30 (this is what we used for Daniel’s birth).  Birthing pools can also be rented.  Special liners are used in these pools and are thrown away after each birth so the tub itself doesn’t get contaminated.  Single-use pools can only be used by one mother and must be carefully cleaned after each use.

Typically, a mother labors in the tub in a variety of positions.  Sometimes, water can slow labor down, especially in the early stage.  In this case, mom would be asked to get out of the tub and move around to speed up her contractions again (in most cases).

Once the baby is delivered (usually fairly quickly), the person who is catching will turn the baby face down and lift up out of the water (in order to prevent getting water up the baby’s nose and into its mouth).  Then, it will be placed against the mother’s chest.  Babies typically do not breathe until they are out of the water, and are still getting oxygen from their umbilical cords at this time anyway.

Why Water Birth?

Why would you want to have a water birth?  There are benefits for both mother and baby:

Mom:

  • Less likely to tear during birth
  • Ability to change positions easily during labor
  • Water supports mom’s weight/baby weight (reducing back pain and allowing more effective contractions)
  • Eases pain without drugs
  • Can promote shorter labor (by helping mom relax and “allow” the birth to happen)
  • Shorter recovery time

Baby:

  • No risk, as there may be with drug-related pain relief
  • Baby is often born very relaxed
  • Easier transition from “womb to world”
  • Immediate bonding with parents

water birth

Are There Risks?

There are few studies that have been done on water birth.  But, even mainstream sources note that risks are extremely rare.  These can include:

  • Baby inhaling water (extremely rare)
  • Increased risk of infection (if you have a known infection, you shouldn’t have a water birth)
  • Slowing labor (but you can just get out for a while)
  • Possible increased risk of hemorrhage/bleeding (if anything seems amiss with bleeding, you will likely be asked to get out so your doctor/midwife can more carefully monitor the situation…as was the case with my last birth)

There are no studies indicating that water birth is inherently more dangerous; for low-risk women, it appears as safe or safer than traditional land birth.

It is always smart, of course, to rule out high-risk women; those with known infections; those who are at risk of hemorrhage; or those who for any reason cannot safely water birth.

Have you had a water birth?  Are you interested in having one in the future?

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8 Comments

  1. I had a water birth at Atlanta Medical Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. There are only two hospitals in North Georgia that permit mothers to labor and deliver in the water and AMC is the only one in downtown Atlanta. My experience was amazing, despite laboring for 28 hours. I was only allowed to get into the tub once I'd reached 8cm and my daughter was born about 2 hours later. I had no medical interventions and no drugs. I believe the water made a huge difference in my comfort level and allowed me to easily change positions. I plan on having all my future babies in the water! We are lucky to have a great midwife group (Intown Midwifery) that works with mothers to birth in the water and a hospital with a staff that is supportive of a mother's right to birth how she wants!

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  2. Great post about waterbirths. I think that hospital waterbirths are becoming more common. I had one at woodwinds hospital in Woodbury MN.

    Considering tearing, my midwife told me that you can be more likely to tear in a waterbirth because it can be hard for whoever is catching the baby to get in there and control the birth. Which was what happened in my case.

    Also, I was able to have a waterbirth even though I was strep b positive. I just needed to have iv antibiotics before getting in the tub.

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  3. My sister-in-law tried the water birth, and she swears by it. Thanks for giving the details, as well as, pros/cons…for my future reference. 🙂

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  4. I had a water birth with my second baby and I plan to have one again! At first I thought that birthing in the water seemed gross; I was uncomfortable with what might be floating around in the water! I originally planned to be in the water only until it was time to push, but when the time came there was no way I was going anywhere! The water was not bad until the very end and I got out soon after that anyway! Shortly after, I got back into the tub with fresh, warm water and had a bath with my new baby. I definitely plan to have a water birth again!

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  5. I just found this site and have enjoyed the natural pregnancy section. My last birth was a water birth at home, and this one will hopefully be as well (within the next couple weeks). This pregnancy has been challenging as I ended up with pre-term labor twice in the hospital, however I worked closely with my midwife and kept those communication lines open. My health is good and baby is good. We’ve have more ultrasounds than I’d have liked, as well as some hospital interventions that I certainly would have opted out of if I thought I could have safely, but in the end, I’ve made it to 37 weeks and am patiently waiting for my baby to arrive in the water, at home, with my family around me. There is nothing like water birth in my opinion. I really don’t want to ever deliver a baby any other way.

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  6. Upset by the fact that I would love to have a tub birth with my first child and I live in southwest GA where they dont do tub births.

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    • Hi Courtney,

      It’s more than a major bummer that there are only two hospitals in our state that offer the option. I suggest you contact Jenny McDonald/Linda Segal. They are both certified nurse midwives (licensed to attend hospital births) but they choose to also attend home births. Birthing at home is a safe and reasonable option for low-risk women. It would be worth a chat with Jenny or Linda. Getting into the water is always an option when you’re at home!

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    • Hi Courtney,

      It is very unfortunate that there are only two hospitals in Georgia that offer water birth, though there are a few others that have regular bathtubs for immersion. Immersion or water birth is always an option at home, so you might consider interviewing Jenny McDonald/Linda Segal. They are certified nurse midwives (they have the same training that midwives in the hospital have) and they choose to attend home births. http://www.mamahomebirth.com/about-us I have heard wonderful things about them and I know at the very least, you’ll enjoy meeting them. Wishing you a wonderful birth!

      Jenny
      Hypnobabies childbirth educator

      Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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