“Fantastic,” said one mother (Mary Cleveland) when I asked her about her water birth experience. It's a common response from women who have labored or given birth in water, but what's all the hype? What's so great about giving birth in water?
If you're the kind of person who likes to take a bath when you have aches and pains or are feeling ill, then you might know what these women are talking about. Water can be very relaxing, definitely a good thing during labor.
But even if you're not the kind of person who loves to be in the water, you may still want to consider using water to ease discomfort during labor, especially if you want a natural birth.
Water is often termed “the midwife's epidural”, and there is some truth to that. In fact, the most popular reason for choosing a water birth is pain relief. Laboring in water has been found lower the rate of epidural use in hospital births. It also greatly reduces the need for medical interventions such as medications to speed up labor and episiotomy.
“The water takes a large portion of the pain,” said Rebecca Clark, who has birthed six children naturally, only the last of which was a water birth. She added, “The baby seems to transition much easier too.”
Is Water Birth Safe?
The most common concern about water birth is that the baby might inhale water and drown. After all, isn't the baby supposed to breathe immediately after being born? Well, it's not so cut and dry.
When a baby is born, they sense their transition from water to air through a complex chemical, hormonal, and physical reaction, which lets them know when they should take their first breath. In a water birth, this reaction is delayed.
A baby will take it's first breath soon after it is lifted out of the water. During this transition from water to air, your baby is still receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord.
Babies born in water fair as well as babies born out of water in terms of response time, oxygen levels, and APGAR scores.
Another concern is that water may increase the chance of infection. However, a number of studies have shown that water birth does not increase the likelihood of infection in the mother or baby.
As with any birth option, water birth is certainly not the right choice for every woman, but it is a safe and natural choice for many.
“Having my babies in water was so peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful,” said April Segura, mother of two, “My favorite part was being able to catch my own babies. Such an amazing experience!”
- Water birth Basics – Comprehensive Article by Barbara Harper, published in Midwifery Today Magazine, Summer 2002
- BMJ January 2004: Cluett Study of Waterbirth as an Alternative Pain
- A Comparative Study of Over 2,000 Water births – Frauenfeld, Switzerland