Planning your birth goes much deeper than just choosing natural (unmedicated) birth versus medicated childbirth. There are many ways to have a natural birth. One that has gained popularity in recent years is natural childbirth in water. Let’s explore this option so you can consider if it’s something you might want for your birth.
What is Water Birth?
Water birth is just what the name suggests — delivering your baby in water. Some women choose to spend part of their labor in water but deliver “on land.” Some plan in advance to deliver in the water. Still others find that they feel so much better in the pool that they don’t want to get out to deliver, even if they’d previously planned to!
If you’re interested in natural childbirth in water, you can find a wealth of information here, on the website of Waterbirth International.
Benefits of Natural Childbirth in Water
The main reason women choose to labor in water is that it decreases pain. Water takes the strain off of muscles and supports the body, making it feel almost weightless. When your back, abdominal, and thigh muscles relax, muscles in the birth passage can also relax. This may help baby maneuver more easily and help with positioning. The water also provides counterpressure that can further ease back pain. (1)
- Studies have shown that women who labor in water have shorter labors (2). One source shows cervical dilation being a centimeter an hour faster when laboring in water (1).
- Laboring in water may benefit women who are considered high risk because of blood pressure. Immersion in a pool has been shown to lower blood pressure within minutes (1).
- Women who deliver in water are less likely to have an episiotomy (3), which means that the healing process may be easier.
- Fewer women who choose natural childbirth in water use pain medication (3).
Concerns with Natural Childbirth in Water
Part of the concern about natural childbirth in water is simply that there isn’t enough solid information out there. It is difficult to compare water birth statistics to births on land because water births happen more often at home or in birth centers than in hospitals, and reporting isn’t the same across these locations.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists official position is that birth should occur on land, not because of established problems with water birth, but because more data is needed. Still, their statement says that women should not be dissuaded from making this choice, only that it should be an educated choice.
Some of the other concerns (and reasons that many hospitals don’t support water birth) are:
- Concerns about baby’s safety and inhaling water
- The need for the caregiver to master new techniques to facilitate birth positions and to protect mom’s perineum from tears
- The physical agility needed by the caregiver to deliver the baby while leaning over a tub
- Extra difficulty managing a difficult or complicated birth
- Other practical concerns, such as extra precautions for infection control (for example, shoulder-length gloves for caregivers) and insufficient room around the tub for access to the woman (5)
To learn more about the pros and cons, and about situations where water birth shouldn’t be done, check out Is Water Birth Safe? Water Birth Pros and Cons.
Can I Choose to Deliver in Water?
Water births are most common in home births or at birthing centers. But a growing number of hospitals also allow it as an option. Check with the facility where you plan to give birth or consider changing locations if needed.
Be sure to talk with your doctor or midwife about your plans well in advance. Typically water births are only an option if your pregnancy is deemed “low risk,” and you’ll need to be medically cleared beforehand.
Water as Part of a Well-Rounded Plan
Whether or not you plan to deliver in water, you may want to consider it as a tool to help you get through labor. Many women have found that water therapy helps with pain. Water can also make it easier to get into positions that aid labor without having to fight gravity or muscle fatigue.
However, you shouldn’t expect water to take away all pain. It is a great tool, but ultimately just one tool in your labor-coping toolbox. You will be most successful if you plan to combine periods of immersion in warm water with upright activity on land, such as walking, squatting, and kneeling. It’s one of many tools that can increase your chances of a labor where you feel empowered and in control.
Kopa Birth’s online childbirth classes allow you to prepare for a natural childbirth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for a natural hospital birth.
(1) Sears, W., & Sears, M. (1994). The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth. Little Brown and Company.
(2) Thöni, A., Zech, N., & Ploner, F. (n.d.). [Giving birth in the water: Experience after 1,825 water deliveries. Retrospective descriptive comparison of water birth and traditional delivery methods]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17440268
(3) Zanetti-Daellenbach, R. A., Tschudin, S., Zhong, X. Y., Holzgreve, W., Lapaire, O., & Hösli, I. (2007, September). Maternal and neonatal infections and obstetrical outcome in water birth. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17092628
(4) Women’s Health Care Physicians. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Immersion-in-Water-During-Labor-and-Delivery
(5) Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Minnetonka: Meadowbrook Press.