Have you thought about having a water birth, but you’re not sure what to expect?
Perhaps you’ve already given birth and are thinking about a different experience for your next pregnancy.
We’ve put together all the important facts about water birth to help you decide.
How common are water births?
Many hospital facilities have redesigned birth rooms to include private birthing tubs so women can labor and have their babies in them.
This has meant more women have been able to access the facilities for water birth in the hospital environment. It’s become a more popular option within mainstream care.
Only a very small part of the population plans a birth at home, but water birth is often very common feature of home births.
Is water birth safe?
Staff in many hospitals and birthing centers are trained to support and help women to labor and give birth in water birth pools.
In many places, there are still restrictions placed on water births – for example, limiting them to women who are having a low-risk pregnancy, and who are under a certain BMI (body mass index).
It pays to understand the evidence (or lack of) related to these guidelines and the arguments that are raised, by speaking with your healthcare provider.
There are still hospitals and birthing centers that restrict a woman from laboring in water if her membranes are ruptured, despite the lack of evidence to show any increase in infections when waters have broken.
Deep immersion is a key factor in the safety of water birth.
The water should be at least up to breast level and must be kept at a certain temperature.
Once your baby is emerging, you must either keep your bottom in the water or, if you lift yourself out, you must stay out.
This makes sure you receive all the benefits of water birth as well as keeping it safe for you and your little one.
What happens during a water birth?
Labor and birth in water is so incredibly simple.
During labor, a mother submerges herself in a warm pool of water, at body temperature, and births her baby through the water.
The water in a birth pool needs to be monitored and kept at a temperature that’s comfortable and safe – usually between 95-100 Fahrenheit (35.5C-37.5 Centigrade).
The temperature shouldn’t be higher than 101F (38C) as it can increase the mother’s body temperature. This higher temperature can cause the baby’s heart rate to increase and be picked up as a sign of distress.
If used too early in the first stage, the water sometimes has the effect of slowing things down. The easy solution is to get out of the pool until contractions are well established.
If the surges are strong and regular, getting into a bath or pool can help the mother relax and bring her comfort. It also allows freedom of movement and assists the dilation of the cervix.
Physiologically, the placenta is supporting the newborn with oxygen during this time. It can never be predicted when the placenta will separate, however, and cause the flow of oxygen to the baby to stop.
Please read more on water birth here: Water Birth Study Finds No Increased Risk To Infants.
What are the benefits of waterbirth?
Waterbirth isn’t for everyone but there are many amazing benefits for mothers. It can increase the chance of having a positive birth experience that also will benefit the baby.
Reduction in perineal trauma
During the crowning stage, when the baby’s head is emerging and the perineum is stretching, the water helps a great deal.
The perineum, which is the area between the anus and vagina, needs to stretch for the baby to be born. Warm water softens these tissues so they can stretch more easily. It also allows the woman to maintain a hands-off, minimal-touch approach during the pushing stage.
One of the best benefits of water birth is that perineal trauma (tearing) is reported to be less severe during water births.
Bathing in warm water is widely recognized for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. When used in labor, the water in the bath must be deep enough to cover your breasts when you’re sitting down.
Once immersed in the deep water, you are more buoyant, which gives you a feeling of weightlessness. This allows you to move more easily and helps you conserve energy.
Warm water alters pain perception in three ways:
- Buoyancy reduces pressure on your abdominal, uterine, and back muscles, encouraging relaxation between surges
- Deep relaxation helps release endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers
- Water stimulates the touch and temperature nerve fibers in the brain. The stimulus provided by the water partially blocks the pain sensation from the uterus.
All of this results in women feeling or perceiving less pain.
Deep immersion in water promotes blood flow and stimulates the release of hormones, such as oxytocin, which strengthens contractions and speeds up the dilation of the cervix.
The bath provides a quiet, safe, and private environment where you can let go and focus inward on labor.
The water conserves your energy by supporting your body, increases your mobility, and relieves anxiety, which helps you to relax.
A quiet, dimly lit room helps even more.
The bath offers an environment where you have greater control and possibly less intervention, giving you a better birth experience.
What are the risks of water birth?
In most healthy pregnancies, the risk associated with water births is very low.
High-risk pregnancies are more likely to experience complications in any case and, in some situations, water birth is not recommended.
Umbilical cord snap
One of the main concerns related to water birth is the risk of the umbilical cord snapping in the pool. This is a very rare occurrence but can happen if the baby is scooped up too quickly and the umbilical cord is short.
Keep in mind, though, umbilical cord snap can occur inland births, too.
When the baby is born in water, the safe approach is for the mother or partner to receive the baby very gently, with the assistance of the midwife or healthcare provider, if required.
Overheating and dehydration
The temperature of the bath must be kept between 34ºC and 37ºC, to prevent overheating. You will be encouraged to have frequent cool drinks or suck on ice blocks, as laboring can make you feel very warm.
If you feel too warm, you will be encouraged to stand out of the water and wipe your face with a cool cloth.
Slowing down of labor
If used in the early stage of labor, water sometimes slows or stops labor.
You can use the pool whenever you want, but if contractions slow down in the first stage of labor, you might want to get out for a while.
You can get back in when contractions are strong and regular.
There is a slight potential risk of infection for the mother and the baby. Thorough cleaning of the bath between uses, however, prevents the spread of infection.
Slip and fall
Any time there is a wet environment, there is a potential risk of slipping and falling.
The mother must be supported on either side, as she gets in or out of the pool – especially when she’s holding a new baby.
What are the disadvantages of waterbirth?
There are some women who find water birth didn’t really fulfill their expectations.
In some situations, women might be disappointed that they still felt pain during labor.
Other women might have needed more gravity, or wanted to stand up, and the birth pool didn’t facilitate this.
Some women feel claustrophobic in the water and prefer the shower rather than the pool for water immersion during labor.
Can your partner go in the birthing pool?
If the birthing tub is large enough to include your partner, it then becomes an intimate place for the two of you to be together and experience the love dance of your infant being born.
Some mothers love to have the support of another in the pool. Others want to have the space for themselves and find it annoying to have it occupied by someone else.
Make sure to chat with your midwife to ensure you have the right pool size for you and your partner.
Is water birth better than an epidural?
Almost everything passes from you, through the placenta, to your baby. This includes the anesthetic that’s put into your spine with an epidural during labor.
Epidurals affect babies during and after birth. If you want to avoid one, a water birth can help you cope with labor contractions and potentially avoid further interventions.
There are times when an epidural is appropriate and ultimately this is your choice.
What happens if you poop in the birth pool?
Perhaps pooping in labor is one of your big concerns during pregnancy.
The bowel is so close to the vaginal wall, it’s no surprise that it will empty at some point, as the baby is born.
If you do happen to poop, your midwife will discreetly use a scoop to get rid of any debris that may be in the pool.
If this happens during water births, most new mums don’t even notice and, honestly, probably don’t care as they are about to meet their newborn.
Does water birth hurt less?
When a woman in labor relaxes in a warm tub, she’s free from gravity’s pull on her body and she experiences less sensory distraction.
Her body is also less likely to secrete stress-related hormones. Instead, she’s awash with endorphins, which act as a natural pain killer.
This hormone rush complements labor, as endorphins and oxytocin stimulate each other to rise naturally.
For more information please read 13 Natural Pain Relief Options For Labour.
What do I wear for a water birth?
You can wear anything you feel comfortable in!
Some mothers wear a bikini type top or bra that’s easy to slip off once baby is born, for easier skin to skin.
Many women find they don’t want anything on as they get closer to giving birth.
What do I need for a home water birth?
Some of the things you might need for a water birth at home are:
- Pool and pool liner
- Rubbish bin and liner
- Scoop or sieve
- Access to continuous hot water
- Birth kit
- Resuscitation equipment for the mother and baby
- Medication for bleeding
- Aromatherapy or homeopathy.
Can I have a water birth at my local hospital?
Many hospitals and birthing centers offer water immersion in labor as an option. But not all provide the option to give birth in water.
Immersion in labor allows women to be in the pool until they’re close to birth. Once the care provider determines the birth of the baby is close, you will be asked to get out of the birth pool.
Birthing in water might depend on the accessibility of a birth tub, and whether there are trained and experienced staff on duty.
When you are planning where to give birth, check that the facility offers water birth, if that’s what you really want.
Most midwifery-led models of care will offer water births as an option. Private midwives attending home births are also very supportive of birthing in water.
There is a series of steps that need to take place in order to assist hospitals, and obstetricians, and gynecologists (ob-gyn) in adopting protocols for water in labor and birth.
If you’re having a baby in a private hospital and want to birth in water, check to see if this is an option.
Discuss with your health care provider the benefits and risks associated with the birth process of water birthing and immersion in water during labor.
If you would like more information about water birth, please read: