Is a Water Birth Right for You?
As water births become more discussed around the United States, you might wonder about the benefits, risks, and if it could be right for you. While water birth is typically associated with home birth, water birth with the West Wing is performed within the facilities of South Peninsula Hospital. Inside our beautiful Family Birthing Center, we provide access to a large tub room available for mothers who desire this natural birthing process while still being under the care of West Wing and hospital staff.
What is Water Birth?
Water birth is the process of giving birth within a tub of warm water. Since the baby has been living within the warm comfort of amniotic fluid for nine months, many say this can be a gentler welcome to the world. Studies have shown that babies have a closed mouth swallowing reflex, which prevents inhalation of water before they are gently lifted out of the tub. Water births are common among women who would like to give birth naturally without the use of an epidural. Around the world, water births are often done at home.
While giving birth in water might seem like a new concept to some, many ancient cultures show evidence of giving water birth for many millennia. South Pacific Islanders tell legends of giving birth in shallow seawater and some records indicate Egyptian pharaohs were born in water. Minoan civilizations on the island of Crete created temples in which women labored and birthed in water. Eventually, in 1805, the first water birth of the modern world was documented in France. The success of using warm water to ease labor sparked interest in Western countries from then on.
What are the Benefits of Water Birth?
There have been various studies done on the safety of water birth and many women report positive experiences. Water, especially warm water, can be very relaxing, contributing to reduced stress and pain. Many women also find that through movement and gravity, water birth can shorten the length of labor.
Some benefits include:
- Sight and sounds of water may enhance the mother’s relaxation.
- Buoyancy in water allows for freedom of movement and various positions of comfort.
- Less pain with a decreased need for anesthesia and analgesia.
- Decreased need for augmentation and other labor interventions.
- Increased sense of control over birth, and improved satisfaction with the birth experience.
- Feeling a sense of privacy within the tub.
- The choice to labor and/or birth outside of the tub at any time and in alternative settings or positions, e.g. standing, on the toilet, in the shower, etc.
What are the Risks of Water Birth?
While water births prove safe and effective for many women, there are still risks involved. These include:
- Decrease in uterine contraction strength and frequency if the deep tub is used prior to regular strong contractions.
- Neonatal water aspiration (described in rare case reports).
- Fever or high maternal and/or fetal heart rate if the water temperature is too hot.
- Torn umbilical cord resulting in unrecognized newborn bleeding (rarely reported).
- Risk of infection for mom and baby (isolated case reports; increased risk is not supported by research).
- Sometimes a woman laboring in the tub will have rapid progress of labor and an unplanned underwater birth will occur.
- Waterbirth may be associated with unknown additional complications that are not seen with birth outside of water and have not yet been demonstrated in research.
Due to the extra risks involved in a water birth, you must first assure you’ll be having a low-risk pregnancy with your healthcare provider or midwife. Conditions like diabetes, herpes, and hypertension will typically rule women out of the possibility of a water birth.
Could a Water Birth be Right for You?
For many women, water birth can be a powerful and almost spiritual experience. One of our Certified Nurse Midwives would love to speak with you to discuss your options for a water birth and go over it with you in more detail. Once any risk factors are determined, our Certified Nurse Midwives work with you to make a birth plan you can feel comfortable with.