By Caroline Bagga
Water birth has become a mainstream option these days, with many hospitals and birth centres offering it. It is thought to have benefits for both mum and bub.
So what exactly is water birth?
Water birth involves labouring and/or delivering your baby in water – this might be an oversized bath or a specialised birth pool. A birth pool is kind of like a large kid’s paddling pool, but with higher, sturdier sides, and handles to grip onto. Sometimes it includes a built-in seat that you can sit on between contractions or once your bub is born. The sides and base are soft, making them comfortable to kneel on and lean against.
Why should you consider a water birth?
- Being in water is calming and relaxing. Staying relaxed will help the hormones Oxytocin and Endorphins to flow, which will keep your contractions strong and act as natural pain relief. Being relaxed will also keep adrenalin to a minimum.
- Water is great for natural pain relief. The warmth of the water is soothing and it might be just what you need to help you cope with the contractions.
- If you’ve ever gone for a swim while pregnant you’ll know that the buoyancy of the water makes you feel light, allowing you to move with more freedom. Your body intuitively wants to move through each contraction, which helps you to cope with the intensity. The large size of birth pools gives you plenty of room for this movement, including using gravity by kneeling and squatting, which also helps your baby to descend through the birth canal.
- We know that animals generally give birth by themselves in dark, quiet spaces. We humans have the same mammalian brains and similarly, we tend to birth better when we are undisturbed. Being in the water can give you a feeling of privacy and control as you are surrounded by the ‘walls’ of the birth pool and more removed from medical interference.
- From your baby’s perspective, being born into water can be a very peaceful, gentle entry into the world. There is usually time for skin-to-skin cuddles and the first feed while still being kept warm by the water. It’s important that the water is not too hot or too cold though.
- If you are planning a home water birth, setting up a birth pool is a very tangible act which helps you to prepare your birth space and mentally visualise yourself in labour and giving birth.
- There are thought to be other benefits of water birth, such as a faster labour and less risk of tearing, although there is no concrete evidence to back this up.
Are there any drawbacks to water birth?
The most common concern is about safety. People worry that if their baby is born underwater they will start to breathe and inhale the water. Don’t forget, your baby has been in a sack of amniotic fluid for the past 9 months, so they are used to being surrounded by water. Your baby’s lungs aren’t activated until their face comes into contact with air, so they won’t take their first breath until they are lifted out of the water. For this reason, if you choose to deliver your baby in water, it’s important that you keep your hips covered by the water during the birth, to prevent the baby from getting air on his or her mouth and inhaling before they are out of the water. This is fairly simple if you’re using a birth pool/bath as the water will be quite high anyway.
Other potential concerns include:
- The risk of infection. However, research hasn’t found any difference in rates of infection between women who give birth in or out of water. Certainly, if you are just labouring in water this isn’t a cause for concern.
- It is harder to monitor blood loss in the water, so if you do deliver your baby in the water and have a haemorrhage you won’t be able to tell how much blood has been lost.
- Not all hospitals offer water birth, and for those that do, they often aren’t able to guarantee that a birth pool will be available at the time you need it. This can be disappointing if you’ve got your heart set on a water birth. Some hospitals and birth centres will allow you to take your own pool in with you, so check with your care provider.
- Some people think that if you get in too soon, or stay in too long, it can slow labour down. However, there is no research to prove or disprove this theory.
- Be aware that labouring or giving birth in water may be against your hospital’s policies if you have any complications or risks, such as high blood pressure or meconium in the water. If monitoring is required during labour you may be asked to leave the pool.
Practical considerations – planning your water birth
When planning your water birth it is best to go with the flow and be prepared to be flexible with your plans. What you think you want for your birth might change as your labour unfolds. Perhaps you thought you would labour in water and then get out – but in the end, you decide to stay in the water. Or maybe you thought you would want to labour in water but actually when you get in it’s not what you want at all and you can’t wait to get out! If you know someone who has had a water birth talk to them about their experience. Think about what you would like to wear (bikini, singlet, nothing) and how you would like your partner/support person to be involved (ie. get in the pool with you or support you from outside the birth pool).
There are plenty of videos of water births on YouTube. Watching some of these may give you a clearer idea of the potential of water birth.