Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Water Birth* (*But Were Afraid To Ask)
Since I was young and learned that it was a thing, water birth has always been such a magical, incredible idea in my head. I seriously hope that one day I'm able to experience it for myself.
I also very much look forward to witnessing my first water birth as a doula, hoping that won't be too far off. I've had several of my clients labour in the water, but as of yet, no water births.
So, What Is Water Birth?
Water birth is just as it sounds, giving birth in the water. I know, you must have a million questions, but don't worry we'll get around to it all.
Thousands of years ago, it's said that women have been giving birth in bodies of water all over the world, from Hawaii, to Egypt, to New Zealand, and lots of places in between.
In modern times, with birth becoming so medicalized in the Western world in the early 1900's, we lost a lot of knowledge (and freedom) of natural ways to deliver. The first modern recorded water birth was in 1805 France. A woman who was going through a very long, difficult labour was helped into the bath for some relief and she quickly progressed and birthed her baby. Then that was it for a while, as far as we know.
In the 1970's though, Russian and French obstetricians began researching new ways to help babies transition into the world and the concept of water birth started to take off. In the 1980's, water birth pioneer Michel Odent, a French OB, started installing birth tubs in hospital rooms.
Benefits of Water Birth
Strap yourselves in because we got a boatload of reasons why water birth is awesome! :
1. Decreased pain
2. Decreased anesthesia use
3. Decreased duration of labour
4. Water supports your weight making it easier to change positions and for your pelvis to open
5. Buoyancy of water improves blood circulation, which means more oxygen for uterus, more oxygen for baby, and less pain for mom
7. Because you're relaxed your stress hormones are reduced
8. Because your stress hormones are reduced your oxytocin flows and you dilate faster
9. Reduced risk of tearing your perineum as the water makes your skin more supple & elastic
10. Reminds baby of the amniotic fluid he was just living in so it's a gentle transition to the world
11. Your partner (and even children) can get in the pool/tub with you if you like
12. Many women who have had both land and water deliveries say that they were more satisfied with the water births
Risks of Water Birth
I want to preface this by saying that water births can be difficult to research for a number of reasons, mainly because so many factors influence birth outcomes like environment, your care provider, frequency of vaginal exams, etc.
1. Not recommended for mothers with any type of complication (pre-term labour, herpes, pre-eclampsia, etc.)
2. If you don't stay hydrated, or if the water is too hot (higher than 98˚f [37˚c]), it could cause fetal distress
3. Risk of infection if the pool/tub has not been cleaned properly (always use disposable liners!)
4. If there is meconium (baby's first poop) present when your water breaks, baby can aspirate it and therefore you should not be in the water
Will My Baby Be Safe?
A common question that people have, obviously, is about the well-being of their child. Water birth is shown to be just as safe (some argue safer), than land birth. Babies grow in water and get their oxygen through the umbilical cord. They have a dive-reflex which means that they automatically will not start breathing until they touch the air. As long as he stays underwater until he is fully out of the vagina, and remains un-startled, he won't drown.
In research you may find that there are rarely adverse effects that come from water birth. However have you seen studies that show what can go wrong with medicalized birth as well? I don't say this to scare you, but rather so you can be informed. There are risks and benefits that come with any procedure you get. You deserve informed consent so that you can look at all the facts and make a decision that feels best for you.
Having a Water Birth
You have so much choice when it comes to the way you want to birth. You even have choice when you decide on water birth. Many hospitals are now equipped with birth tubs as it's becoming more common. You can also opt for a birth centre, or even rent a birth pool to use in your own home.
If you do rent one for your home, it's best to set it up 2 weeks before your due date, just so that when it's time all you have to do is fill it up.
Depending on the equipment that comes with, there might be a hose that you hook up to your sink to fill the pool. If the water starts getting cool you can just turn the hot water on, just don't let it get above 98˚f (37˚c). Alternatively, you can keep the temperature warm by boiling water on the stove and pouring it in the pool (away from the mother of course).
You can get in the tub whenever you think you feel you need it. You can go in, and then out, and then back in again. A lot of research shows that it's most effective to be immersed when you're in very hard labour because it converts all those stress hormones to oxytocin and you dilate the rest of the way fairly quickly.
If you have a doctor they will probably want you out of the tub to do checks, whereas midwives can do them while you're in the tub.
With birth comes birth debris, which will float in the water sometimes. Your midwife has seen it all before and she will have no problem sieving it out.
After delivery, your doctor or midwife will want you out of the tub to deliver the placenta so that they can monitor any blood loss.
If you like the idea of water birth but are still timid, even just labouring in a birth tub reduces stress and pain. Many of my clients laboured in water and they just loved it.
This is one woman's beautiful story about her water birth experience.
This is one of the best water birth (and birth in general) videos I've seen. It looks so peaceful and lovely. I encourage any woman who wants a water birth to watch!
This is just a beautiful series of photos of one families babies being born, and swimming in water.
Water birth is not for everyone. Some women swear by it.
Every birth is different. Every mother is different.
I do hope that you are more or less informed now and maybe even excited to do your own research about it!
What it all comes down to is: what feels best for you? Then do that.
Until next time,