I always loved being in water, since I was little. I used to swim for hours during our summer vacations, until my lips were blue and my skin all wrinkled. Being in water for me is like being completely at home, one with nature.
So naturally, I felt like laboring and giving birth in water is the most logical thing for me. Unfortunately, due to circumstances I’ve never got to experience it.
What are the actual advantages of a water birth? Are there any risks and downsides to laboring in water?
There are many benefits of laboring in water.
The warm water is relaxing, calming, and the buoyancy of water helps with increasing the mobility and feeling lightweight.
As the mother is feeling more comfortable, relaxed and safe, immersed in the warm water, her nervous system can focus on the labor itself, so all the hormones and chemicals involved can be released and do their job.
These hormones ( oxytocin and beta-endorphins) have an analgesic effect, making the experience more pleasant and reducing the need for analgesia and anesthesia.
Laboring in water also shortens the first stage of labor. That’s the longest stage, during which the cervix needs to dilate to 10 cm.
The warm water helps reduce the risk of severe tears (3rd and 4th degree tears) and reduces the risk of episiotomy.
Research is still not completely clear if there are any risks and disadvantages.
The research that is available shows that water birth is a safe option in low-risk, healthy, full-term pregnancies.
There is almost no evidence that water birth is not safe.
However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
If you are concerned that your baby might get an infection from the water, if the pool/tub has been properly disinfected before and prepared in a clean way, and you are healthy, your baby will not be infected.
In fact, the bacteria from the potential fecal matter (yep, almost everyone poops while in labor, it’s normal) is diluted in the water, and actually beneficial for your baby’s microbiome.
The risk of aspirating water is quite low as well.
If the baby is not in distress ( which your midwife/doctor will closely monitor), the baby will inhale its first breath of air when it’s out of the water. There are many mechanisms in place to prevent the inhalation of water.
All in all, available research shows that water birth is a safe and a great option for healthy moms with low risk pregnancies.
That said, if water is not your thing, don’t feel pressured to try a water birth. There are
plenty of other ways to make your labor enjoyable, calm, relaxing, and whatever you wish it to be.
Have you considered a water birth yourself? Or maybe even had one?
Do you have any more questions about it?
P.S. It is important that you discuss with your doctor and midwife if a water birth is a safe option for you and your individual circumstances. Your medical provider will explain to you all the risks and benefits for you, and the guidelines that the hospital/birthing center needs to follow to make sure you and your baby are safe.
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Harper B. Birth, bath, and beyond: the science and safety of water immersion during labor and birth. J Perinat Educ. 2014 Summer;23(3):124-34.
Liu, Y., Liu, Y., Huang, X. et al. A comparison of maternal and neonatal outcomes between water immersion during labor and conventional labor and delivery. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 14, 160 (2014)
Zanetti-Daellenbach RA, Tschudin S, Zhong XY, Holzgreve W, Lapaire O, Hösli I. Maternal and neonatal infections and obstetrical outcome in water birth. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2007 Sep;134(1):37-43.