Water Birth

Water birth is the process of giving birth (or at least spending part of your labor) in a pool of water. Being in water provides birthing women with privacy and autonomy, while helping them to cope with contractions.

Why Water?

Think of how soothing a warm bath can be when we are feeling pain or discomfort. Perhaps you have used a bath to ease the stress of your workday or when you feel physically fatigued. A bath can leave us energized. It almost washes away the stresses that have overwhelmed us. It inly makes sense that being in the water would help soothe the pains of labor or lessen the stresses of our contractions.

What are the perceived benefits of water birth?

How Does A Water Birth Reduce Pain?

Birth unfolds with several hormones, physical changes and intense muscle contractions. There are many variables which impact a woman's level of discomfort, pain or intense sensations.

The pains of labor are two dimensional. One aspect is the actual transmission of information to the brain, the pain stimuli, and the other aspect is how the stimuli is interpreted which can be impacted by emotional, cognitive, social and cultural variables unique to each woman. Simply put, while labor pain is very physical, how we feel the physical pain is impacted by our environment, support people and past experiences. Hydrotherapy offers us an opportunity to both lessen the physical pains of labor and support the emotional needs through comfort and relaxation.

Hormones and Water Birth

Oxytocin, an important labor hormone, flows best when a woman feels safe, comfortable and loved. With the release of oxytocin, which stimulates labor contractions, the body also releases beta-endorphins which are hormones that aid in coping with pain, sometimes creating a feeling of euphoria. The feelings of security and relaxation that come as a result of hydrotherapy make the perfect environment to help the body release and utilize its natural pain relievers.

When to enter the water

Waiting until labor is well established... well into the Active Phase of labor is the best time to get into a tub. Getting in too soon can slow down labor, but waiting as long as possible will offer the most effective pain relief. Whenever possible, it's best to be fully submerged to at least your chest. While any bit of warm water can help in coping with contractions, being fully submerged provides more buoyancy and warmth to provide the most pain relief. Being well submerged might also help a mother to feel more secure, as if she's in a safe nest preparing for her baby's arrival.

Is There A Risk Of Infection?

Research dating back to the 1960s dispels the myth that water birth is dangerous with regards to infection. And French obstetrician and pioneer in water birth, Doctor Michel Odent, reported no infections, regardless of intact or ruptured membranes during a study on water birth.

It's important to remember all choices have benefits and risks - including other forms of labor pain relief. However, there's no current evidence to support concerns over infection during a water birth when proper sterilization policies are followed in birthing facilities. Also, unlike some other forms of labor pain relief, water birth is not associated with lower Apgar scores or other adverse effects on newborns.

How Will My Baby Breath During A Water Birth?

When we see a birth out of the water, we often notice baby is quickly breathing and crying. However, simply exiting the womb doesn't trigger breathing. Babies are triggered to breath when they feel the change in temperature. When a birthing pool is kept at a safe temperature, a baby will continue to receive oxygen via the umbilical cord. Once brought swiftly out of the tub, the change in temperature will trigger baby to take her first breath.

Is A Water Birth Right For Me?

Until you're in labor it can be hard to know for sure what things will best help you cope with contractions. However, many women do plan for a water birth, and make sure to take steps to keep it a viable option should they find it helpful.

If you want a water birth, your maternity care provider choice is important. Finding a midwife or doctor supportive of water birth and familiar with it is important. You will also need to research which facilities offer a water birth, and perhaps look into birth pool rental if you're planning a homebirth.

Certain excerpts from this article were adapted from the following resource:
Water Birth - Everything You Need To Know
By Maria Pyanov in Birth. Last updated on April 18, 2017