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:
- 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
- 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
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.