Everything You Need to Know About Water Births
Water births are when at least some of the labor or delivery occurs in a pool filled with warm water. Water births are believed to help with a less painful experience in a relaxed environment. There are a few studies that seem to corroborate this point of view, but there is not yet enough scientific evidence to fully indicate the efficacy of this procedure. Nevertheless, its popularity is ever on the rise, and in the US, there has been an increase in institutions that offer this facility. Here’s what you need to know about water births.
The Benefits of the Procedure
The purported advantages of water births are numerous. Most obviously, the warmth of the water makes for a more relaxing and soothing environment to give birth in. For the mother, other professed benefits can include the following:
- The water helps counter high blood pressure that may arise due to anxiety.
- The buoyancy allows for more effectual contractions, and helps oxygenate the uterine muscles by promoting better blood circulation. This has the overall effect of supplying more oxygen to the baby, while the mother suffers less pain.
- The buoyancy also has the effect of making the mother’s body lighter, which lets her position herself more freely and comfortably.
- There is some evidence that water births inhibit stress related hormones from being released in the body, and encourage pain-inhibiting endorphins to be produced and spread throughout the body instead.
- The relaxing effect of the water has a psychological effect on the mother – since the physical pain is lowered, she can focus on the task of pushing the baby out.
- The woman’s perineum relaxes and becomes more elastic, and therefore less likely to severely tear and require stitches.
- It appears that the mother’s energy is positively affected by the water in the latter stages of the pregnancy.
- The easing of pain means that the necessity of anesthesia becomes less driving, which allows for a speedier birthing process.
Of course, it is more difficult to know what positive effects this could have on the baby, but proponents believe that being subjected to a water birth allows the baby to be born in an environment like the one it was used to inside the womb.
The Risks of Water Births
Water births are associated with some risks that parents should responsibly be aware of. Not all women are good candidates for water births. The procedure is recommended for women who are going through minimal complications with their pregnancies. The ideal candidate embodies traits like low blood pressure, a baby positioned the right way in the womb, and a gestating period of over 37 weeks. Despite all of the precautions that parents take, the risk of one or more of the following remains.
- Infection: Babies often defecate right after being delivered. This means that the fecal matter is released in the birthing pool itself. If the baby happens to ingest some of that water, it might get infected. Babies do have a reflex that prevents them from breathing in water, but this could be overridden if their oxygen supply is somehow affected, or if they are startled. And infection can only really occur if the baby breathes too soon, which is something that trained professionals can avoid.
- Studies show that bacteria are present in higher concentrations in a birthing tub, though the jury is out on whether that does lead to more neo-natal infections. However, the baby’s feces are not the only potential source of bacteria in the pool. The mother’s own vaginal and rectal bacteria contaminate the water when she sits in it.
- Drowning: While midwives and doctors are usually on hand to prevent this kind of accident from occurring, there is the risk that the baby is not brought to the surface in time to avoid the lungs from becoming filled with water. The danger is exacerbated if the baby has seizures that render it unable to breathe.
- If the temperature of the water is not regulated, the baby’s body temperature could be higher or lower than it should. If the temperature of the water is lower than the optimal 95 to100° F, it could even lead to cases of pneumonia.
- The umbilical cord could tear underwater if it is too short, although this is extremely rare.
What Precautions Are Needed?
Most medical organizations recommend that expecting mothers carry out the birthing procedure within a hospital or birthing clinic where trained professionals are always on hand. In the case of water births, they stress the same recommendation to minimize risks. Parents should also keep these precautions in mind:
- The birthing pool or tub maintains high standards of cleanliness and employs appropriate infection controls.
- Keep up your hydration levels during the birthing process.
- Get into the bath at the appropriate time. Getting in too early could potentially slow down labor.
- A professional is monitoring the mother and the baby always, and is standing by ready to bring the baby to the surface, and to get the mother out of the pool.
- If you want to have the birth at home, hire a midwife.
The Actual Experience of the Process
Of course, different mothers will experience water births in different ways. Many, however, have found it to be a pleasant (relatively speaking!) and relaxing process. The buoyancy provided by the water, as well as the increased privacy, allows for more freedom of movement. Additionally, pushing a baby out into water instead of air is an easier and faster process for many women, as the water supports them. The baby will be brought to the surface slowly by the midwife or nurse to take its first breath without rupturing the umbilical cord.
Of course, some mothers have experienced discomfort with the process. If you happen to feel that the temperature of the pool is too high for you, or that your pain is far from being alleviated, or the midwife detects some other problem, it might be best to get out of the pool. Make sure you choose the right option for yourself!