Water Birth Study: Safe For Babies
Water birth has become a very popular choice for expectant mothers wanting to have a natural birth.
The demand for water birth has grown so much that increasing numbers of hospitals and birth centres are adding baths to birth suites.
Water birth advocates believe water immersion during labour increases maternal relaxation and provides pain relief.
This in turn reduces stress on babies and eases their transition into the world.
Until recently, many care providers have been concerned about the risks of water birth to babies. Recent research has shown there is no evidence water birth increases harm to babies.
Is Water Birth Risky For Babies?
A common concern with water birth is the risk of water aspiration (breathing water into the lungs). During labour, babies are receiving oxygen from the umbilical cord. A healthy baby will not begin to inhale or breathe until she is completely born.
Babies have what is known as a diving reflex (bradycardic response). When the baby’s head is born under water, the reflex is triggered by facial skin receptors, causing her to swallow liquid rather than inhale it. Breathing is stimulated when the baby is brought up to the surface and the air touching her face stimulates her to breathe.
Another concern of care providers is the potential risk of the umbilical cord snapping while the baby is still under the water. The umbilical cord provides essential oxygen to the baby before respiration is underway. Damage to the umbilical cord can be prevented by using caution when lifting the baby out of the water and onto the mother’s chest.
What Benefits Does Water Birth Have For Babies?
Midwives who attend water births report that babies tend to be calm, and transition to life outside the womb easily. Women who labour in water report feeling more relaxed, which facilitates a more effective labour and less stress on their babies.
Babies who have been surrounding by warm water for nine months are eased into a warm, watery environment, reducing the shock of temperature changes and bright lights. The transition to breathing is gentle, as the baby is brought to the air and the umbilical cord is left intact.
New Research Shows Benefits
A study published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health looked at midwife attended water births in the United States over a five year period. The researchers looked at data collected by the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project (known as MANA Stats).
More than 6,500 women in the database gave birth in water, either at home or in a freestanding birthing centre; the study didn’t include women birthing in hospitals. The outcomes in these water births were compared with the outcomes for births not in water.
The results speak for themselves. Babies born in water are no more likely to require transfer to hospital after birth, or require admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in the first six weeks following birth, than babies who aren’t born in water.
Water birth babies are also no more likely to have a low Apgar score after birth than babies born out of water. The Apgar score assess your baby’s wellbeing at 1 and 5 minutes after birth, to determine if any treatment or assistance is needed.
Factors that are assessed in the Apgar score are skin colour, heart rate, reflex response, muscle tone and breathing. Babies with an Apgar score of 7 or higher aren’t likely to require any assistance and are considered to be in excellent condition.
This concurs with another study from Australia, which looks at birth outcomes over 12 years in a large Sydney birth centre. The researchers found babies who were born in a semi-reclined position were more likely to have lower Apgar scores than babies born in water.
Water birth is increasingly popular as a method of pain relief and relaxation during labour. You might be undecided about whether you will just labour in water, or choose to birth there as well. If access to water immersion during labour is important to you, make sure you choose a birth setting with care providers who are supportive and experienced in water birth.
Recommended Reading: Water Birth – Everything You Need To Know.