Water Birth: Benefits and Risks
Water birth is the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water. Some women choose to labor in the water and get out for delivery. Other women decide to stay in the water for the delivery as well. It is believed that water birth results in a more relaxed, less painful experience for mothers.
During a water birth, you’ll be submerged in water, usually in a stationary or inflatable tub, and you’ll birth your baby in the water. This may be a good option if you want the benefits of hydrotherapy, along with the benefits of delivering in a hospital. The theory behind water birth is that since the baby has already been in the amniotic fluid sac for nine months, birthing in a similar environment is gentler for the baby and less stressful for the mother. Ask your hospital beforehand if they allow women to labor in water.
It can take place in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home. A doctor or midwife helps you through it. Beyond location, more and more women are choosing water births as the way their babies enter the world.
What are the benefits of water births?
Benefits for Mother:
- Warm water is soothing, comforting, relaxing.
- may help shorten the duration of labor.
- Speed up your labor
- Laboring in water may also decrease your need for epidurals or other spinal pain relief and more oxygen for the baby.
- Labor in water may also have a lower cesarean section rate
- The water seems to reduce stress-related hormones, allowing the mother’s body to produce endorphins which serve as pain-inhibitors.
- As the laboring woman relaxes physically, she is able to relax mentally with a greater ability to focus on the birth process.
- Water provides a greater sense of privacy, it can reduce inhibitions, anxiety, and fears.
- Floating in water helps you move around more easily than in bed.
Benefits for Baby:
- Provides an environment similar to the amniotic sac.
- Eases the stress of birth, thus increasing reassurance and sense of security.
What are the risks to the mother and baby?
- You or your baby could get an infection.
- chance of umbilical cord damage
- trouble regulating the baby’s body temperature
- Your baby could breathe in bath water.
- Your baby could have seizures or not be able to breathe.
- respiratory distress for baby
Water birthing may not be recommended if you have any of the following complications or symptoms:
- maternal blood or skin infection
- fever of 100.4 F (38°C) or higher
- excessive vaginal bleeding
- Difficulty tracking fetal heartbeat, or need for continuous tracing
- history of shoulder dystocia
- carrying multiples
What situations are not ideal for water birth?
- If your baby is breech: Although water birth has been done with bottom or feet first presentations, you should discuss this risk thoroughly with your healthcare provider.
- If you are having multiples: Although water births have been successful around the world with twin births, you should discuss this risk thoroughly with your doctor.
- If preterm labor is expected: If a baby is preterm (two weeks or more prior to due date), water birth is not recommended.
- If there is severe meconium: Mild to moderate meconium is fairly normal. Since meconium floats to the surface in a tub, your health care provider will watch for it and remove it immediately, or help you out of the tub. Meconium usually washes off the face of the baby and even comes out of the nose and mouth while the baby is still under water. If the water is stained and birth is imminent, the woman can lift her pelvis out of the water to birth the infant.
- If you have toxemia or preeclampsia: You should thoroughly discuss this risk with your healthcare provider.
Some science suggests that the water may lower chances of severe vaginal tearing. And it may improve blood flow to the uterus. But study results about these points aren’t clear.
You may also reach out to friends or family who has had previous water births to learn more about their experiences. What’s most important is choosing a birthing plan that’s right for you and your baby.
If you’re planning a water birth, it’s also a good idea to come up with a backup plan in case you have complications as your pregnancy progresses, or during labor.
There isn’t enough formal evidence to support the benefits or risks of labor and delivery while submerged in water. Much of what you will read is anecdotal. More research is needed to assess the benefits for both mother and baby.
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