Many couples who want a natural birth express interest in the option of a water birth. Yet the question often emerges: Is water birth safe for me and my baby? The most current research suggests that water birth is a safe option for healthy, low-risk women and babies (1,2,3). Still, it’s important to understand the water birth pros and cons when compared to birth on land.
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Water Birth Pros and Cons
Water Birth Pros:
- Immersion in water helps increase mobility during labor (4)
- Decreased use of medications for pain relief (5)
- Lower episiotomy rates (6)
- Decreased risk of 3rd and 4th degree perineal tears (6)
Water Birth Cons:
- Greater risk of umbilical cord snapping if too much traction is placed on the cord (7)
- Risk that baby may aspirate water into his lungs (8) (While this is a serious risk and it can occur, it’s rare.)
- Risk of infection if the water birth tub is not cleaned properly (9)
- Greater risk of perineal trauma in general, although the lacerations tend to be less severe (1)
Water Birth Safety
In November 2016, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encouraged facilities that offer water birth to establish protocols to help ensure a safe experience (10). Research your birth facility to ensure that their practices are most likely to lead to a calm, satisfying, and safe water birth. Ensure that your care providers are well-trained in current water birth procedures.
Who can do a water birth?
The majority of healthy, low-risk women can experience a water birth. Eligibility requirements for a water birth vary depending on the practice and birth facility. However, the following criteria are generally accepted (11):
- Baby is in a head-down position
- Single birth (not twins or other multiples)
- At lest 37 weeks pregnant
- Baby’s heart rate is stable
Is a water birth always safe?
There are several conditions where a water birth may not be recommended, including the following (11):
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Mom has a fever
- Any condition that requires continuous fetal monitoring that can’t be obtained if mom is in the water
- Active herpes lesions
- Epidural pain medication
If your plan in a natural childbirth, water birth can be a safe and satisfying way to welcome your baby! As with all of your birth options, be sure to do your homework! Study the water birth pros and cons. Find a midwife or doctor who is experienced and well-qualified, and whose professional judgment you trust. Then, embrace the joyful experience of giving birth to your little one!
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
- Bovbjerg, M. L., Cheyney, M. and Everson, C. (2016), Maternal and Newborn Outcomes Following Waterbirth: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009 Cohort. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 61: 11–20.
- Dekker, Rebecca. Evidence on: Water Birth. Retrieved online at https://evidencebasedbirth.com/waterbirth/
- Harper, B. (2014). Birth, Bath, and Beyond: The Science and Safety of Water Immersion During Labor and Birth. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 23(3), 124–134.
- Stark MA, Ruddell B, Haus G. (2008). Observing position and movements in hydrotherapy: a pilot study. JObstetGynecolNeonatalNurs;37:116-122.
- Cluett ER, Burns E. (2009) Immersion in water in labour and birth. Cochrane Database Syst Review
- Geissbuehler V, Stein S, Eberhard J. (2004). Waterbirths compared with land births: an observational study of nine years. Journal of Perinatal Medicine. 32(4):308-314.
- Schafer, R. (2014). “Umbilical cord avulsion in waterbirth.” J Midwifery Womens Health 59(1): 91-94.
- Nguyen, S., C. Kuschel, et al. (2002). “Water birth–a near-drowning experience.” Pediatrics 110(2 Pt 1): 411-413.
- Fehervary, P., E. Lauinger-Lorsch, et al. (2004). Water birth: microbiological colonisation of the newborn, neonatal and maternal infection rate in comparison to conventional bed deliveries. Arch Gynecol Obstet 270(1): 6-9
- ACOG Committee on Obstetric Practice and the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014). ACOG Committee Opinion no. 594: Immersion in water during labor and delivery. Obstet Gynecol 123(4): 912-915.
- American-College of Nurse Midwives. (2017). A Model Practice Template for Hydrotherapy in Labor and Birth. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. Volume 62, No. 1, Jan/Feb.