Although it is not very widely practiced, water birthing is gaining increasing numbers of fans. In fact, health professionals are observing an increasing desire to return to natural birthing practices. Although it is relaxing for the mother, it isn’t without its risks for the baby.
In the 1970s, giving birth in the water was a common practice. However, it got forgotten about for a few decades, only to make a return in recent times. However, only a handful of maternity hospitals offer the option. So why is this? What are the benefits? How does it work? And who is the technique suitable for?
What does a water birth involve?
Giving birth in the water attracts certain mums-to-be, who want to bring their little ones into the world in a more natural, less medical environment. The water encourages the newborn’s arrival, because of the calm, relaxed setting. When the contractions intensify and become painful, the mother gets into a bath of water at 37°C. The water provides a sensation of lightness and well-being.
The mother is carefully surveyed with a waterproof monitor (similar to with a traditional birth). When the baby is being born, the mother has the choice of whether or not to remain in the bath. If she decides to stay immersed, the baby will be born into the water before being brought up to the surface. Although there is no risk of drowning (the baby has swum in the amniotic fluid for the past nine months, and doesn’t breathe until their lungs come into contact with the air), the mother should still come out of the bath in order to eliminate the placenta.
However, note that an epidural is not an option during a water birth.
What are the advantages of giving birth in the water?
Giving birth in the water has several advantages for the mother:
- The water relaxes her and reduces pain
- The water speeds up labour by relaxing the muscle tissues, particularly those of the cervix, which dilates more rapidly in such conditions
- The birth takes place in a calm and intimate atmosphere
It also has advantages for the baby:
- Being born into water reminds the baby of being in the amniotic fluid
- The baby’s muscles are relaxed; they open their eyes under water
- The baby should be more calm and relaxed than during a traditional birth
What are the risks?
It appears that there is a higher risk of infection. The mother can often empty her bowels at the moment of childbirth. The water is therefore filled with impurities which can lead to infections. However, studies report that the number of germs transmitted during water births is the same as for during traditional births.
As there is no epidural during a water birth, the pain can be more intense.
Can any mother give birth in water?
No. Water births are only an option for women who are not suffering from high blood pressure, lung problems, heart problems or diabetes. Women with HIV, AIDS or hepatitis B should also go for a traditional childbirth.
In terms of the baby: premature babies, babies in whom heart problems have been detected, who are not presenting in the right position or who require increased monitoring should not be considered for water births.
Advance preparation is necessary
If you are planning for a water birth, you need to talk to your doctor about it and make contact with a maternity hospital in your area who supports water births.
Be aware that a water birth requires specific preparation. From the fifth month of pregnancy, you start going to a swimming pool accompanied by a midwife, in order to strengthen up your back, your legs and your arms. You also need to work on your breathing and learn relaxation techniques.