To many women, a water birth can be just one of those things on the fringes of daily life, lumped along with hipster things like snail facials and Gwyneth Paltrow smoothies. After all, it’s a bit unreal and so far removed from the usual childbirth experience, which mainly involves lying down flat on a bed with your legs spread and a midwife or doctor waiting on the other end.
But as actual scientific studies have been conducted on water birth, it’s become a very real option offered in hospitals and birthing clinics across North America and Europe. It may seem relatively new but it’s actually a practice that dates back to ancient cultures, including Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Guyana and even Greece. It probably wasn’t too popular in some places due to the lack of appropriate water supply. With the advent of modern medicine, it may also have fell out of favor considering that it used to be difficult to practice techniques in sterility underwater.
Nowadays, however, safe water birthing methods have been established, putting its safety pretty much at par with waterless deliveries. If you’re not too familiar with it, or if you’re still skeptical, here are 20 tips and secrets about water birth to consider when you’re making your birthing plan.
Warmth has long been used in medicine as a method of pain relief. This is commonly attributed to the gate control theory of pain. Body sensations, including pain and warmth, are thought to pass through the same gate but only limited sensations can pass through at a time. By applying a non-painful sensation, you’re flooding the pathway with a different sort of sensation that crowds out the pain that goes through the gate. In this case, the non-painful sensation is warmth.
Some mothers do say that water birth is no less painful than regular birth. This is probably because each person is wired differently and so the methods that ease your pain could not be effective on another person. Despite this, however, these mothers do say that water birth is far more relaxing, albeit just as painful.
Warm baths, after all, are ultimately comforting and are generally associated with good memories such as a relaxing dip in the bathtub or a day in the spa. In some, this relaxing effect could contribute to the reduced sensation of pain.
18 Breathing Control
Being more relaxed during childbirth can help you with better breathing. If you’ve taken birthing classes, you know that patterned breathing is a major factor that helps with pain relief, as well as effective pushing. When you become panicky during labor, after all, you may have a tendency to hyperventilate which, ultimately, can make you even more sensitive to pain.
17 Happy Hormones
Some believe that water births can decrease your level of stress hormones, as well as stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that are associated with an overall good feeling, which could help you deal with the pain. The lower level of stress hormones is also a plus. Stress hormones may stimulate hyperventilation, not to mention make you more prone to panicking, which is not exactly great if you’re already in pain.
While water does not counteract gravity per se, having water particles around you does make you more buoyant. This explains why gravity seems to have little effect underwater and why we can swim in water but not in air. With water cushioning you from all sides, you will be able to take on whatever position is comfortable for you and the risk of your baby falling head-on straight into the floor is diminished. Someone will still have to catch him, of course, but you can safely give birth relatively vertical without fear.
15 Better Contractions
Warmth does not only relieve pain, it also helps increase blood circulation to the perineal and abdominal muscles to help push your baby out. With regular births, applying warm compresses for this purpose is also possible, but it can get awkward. Water births have the advantage of covering your entire abdomen and perineum in a comforting warmth that primes up your blood vessels. This can ultimately make the process of giving birth easier and quicker than with regular methods.
14 Avoiding Risky Cord Snap
One of the biggest risks for your baby during water birth is the possibility of the cord snapping when the baby is pulled to the surface too abruptly or too early. Medically called cord avulsion, the overall risks are quite low, but it’s still important to learn about it to be able to prevent it. Talk to your midwife about this risk and discuss when it is safe to take your baby up to the surface.
13 First Breaths
Of course, one of the major concerns most mothers have about water birth is simple: how will my baby breathe underwater, and will he drown? This isn’t normally a problem as your baby only takes his first breath as soon as he is exposed to air. In the meantime, he will continue to get his oxygen from the umbilical cord which is still connected to the placenta. The placenta doesn’t usually come out of your body until the baby is born and this is more than enough time to deliver and get him to the surface.
Proponents of water birth say that the procedure isn’t just great for mom, it’s also more comfortable for the baby as well. This is because, during the course of your pregnancy, your baby is floating in the warm amniotic fluid inside your uterus. Regular labor involves an abrupt transition from that warm liquid into the relatively cold outside air. The benefit of water birth is that it helps put a small gap of time between the stress of labor and the exposure to air that results in the first breath. This ultimately makes your baby’s transition into the outside world a bit gentler.
11 The Diving Reflex
If you’re still worried that your baby is going to breathe in water and drown, it will probably be good to know that your little one has something called the diving reflex. This reflex, found in infants below six months of age, causes them to hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged underwater. The baby may also instinctively move his arms and legs around, which can make it look like he’s swimming!
10 Underwater Pain Relief
If you’re planning on water birth but still want to have a backup form of medical pain relief just in case all the other measures don’t work, it’s still safe to use laughing gas or nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen to ease your pain. In the United States, nitrous oxide is used primarily in dental procedures and seldom in childbirth. However, many other countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom do use it regularly.
Note that if you need other forms of pain relief such as an epidural, you will need to get out of the tub and have a regular delivery. If you anticipate this, a water birth may not be for you.
9 Best for Normal, Healthy Pregnancies
If you’re convinced that you want a water birth right now, you may still want to get all your prenatal appointments to ensure everything is going well before committing. You also want a go ahead from your obstetrician for it. This is because water births may not be for women who are experiencing difficult pregnancies. This means that women who have preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are not likely candidates. Women whose babies are in the breech (i.e. non head-first) position are also not encouraged to have water births. This is because it may be more difficult to get you out and provide proper treatment in case things go wrong.
8 Pick a Midwife You Trust
When you’re going through a water birth, you will need to have at least one midwife close by at all times. It helps to make sure that your midwife has experience in facilitating water births. She will be able to guide you through the process, as well as monitor for any complications. She will periodically check the pool’s temperature and determine if any intervention that requires you to get out of the pool is needed.
Once you commit to a water birth, you should be aware that there is still a possibility that you will need to get out of the pool and proceed with the delivery elsewhere. If, for instance, your baby becomes distressed, or your placenta separates from your uterus prematurely, or the water becomes green or brown signaling a meconium stain, you may need to be transferred to the hospital.
It is therefore important to make sure you have a backup plan in case any of these happens.
One of the most important things to check prior to your water birth is the cleanliness of the area. It helps if you can view it in advance and then recheck when you’re still in the early stages of labor. Never proceed with a water birth if you’re dubious about cleanliness. Make sure that the pool and all the equipment have been disinfected properly. Again, it helps to give birth at a reputable location with an experienced midwife. This ensures that you’re at less risk for infection.
5 Risk for Tears
Studies have found that women who have water birth have a slightly smaller risk for perineal tears, as well as a decreased need for episiotomies. This could be due to the slight resistance of the water against the perineum. However, one of the major factors is probably the easier pushing and, therefore, the shorter labor times.
When you’re in the water, don’t be afraid to tell the midwife if the water is too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature for water birth can actually range from anywhere between 95°F to 99.5°F. However, it’s still best if you provide feedback as to the regulation of temperature. Your baby cannot yet properly regulate his temperature and so anything too hot or too cold may cause problems during the delivery.
3 Stay Hydrated
While you’re staying in the water, it may not be intuitive to know that you’ll still need to drink a lot of water. This is because you will be losing some blood during the process, and so you’ll need to be properly hydrated in order to ensure consistent blood circulation. In addition, the relative warmth of the water may cause you to sweat and lose more water than you normally would. It’s best to drink up, particularly throughout the first stage of your labor.
If you’re worried about the safety of water births, do note that many studies have found that it’s just as safe as regular births. For as long as you’ve had an uncomplicated pregnancy and don’t have any medical conditions that contraindicate it, you should be good to go.
Of course, given that the risks are pretty similar, it’s ultimately up to you to decide which benefits you’d like to opt for. Water birth decreases risk for lacerations and the need for pain meds, but land birth ensures that it’s always easy to transfer to a more advanced facility if you need to.
Because water births seem to be just one of those hipster things to do, people generally think that they’re far more expensive. However, water births are comparable in cost to regular births. While they can be slightly more expensive overall, the expenses balance out when you consider the cost required to treat perineal tears. It is, therefore, a reasonable option even if you’re concerned about price.