Water birth (birth in water, a water birth) is a delivery method when a woman giving birth is immersed in water.
This method is used to reduce pain, increase comfort during labor, birth stress mitigation in the newborn caused by sudden changes in temperature, gravity, light and sound effects. Water birth is not a novelty. The first description of it dates from the XVI century. First documented cases of it date from XIX century: France, 1803; and Germany, 1805. And since mid-sixties it has become a wide-spread practice.
Now maternity hospitals equipped with baths and jacuzzi are not a rarity in many countries. Women speak of water birth on every street corner. New mothers who tried it are sharing their delightful experience and doctors discuss pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages of water birth.
Theory and practice
There are lots of theoretical bases of water birth advantages. Such as, for instance, Archimedean principle, according to which water helps to relieve pain during the delivery because the expulsive force on a body placed in the water is proportionate to the volume of liquid displaced by the body. That’s why it’s easier to endure the pain in the water than on the firm ground.
In general, it’s hard not to agree that water relieves a woman’s pain during contractions. But the question is about delivery into the water, in other words, after extrusion, a baby comes into the liquid medium, not into the air.
Supporters of water birth believe that if a newborn baby gets into the warm liquid medium, to which it has already been accustomed, it will relieve birth stress that is often compared with the state of an astronaut experiencing overload. According to them, water birth reduces childbirth trauma to a minimum because during water birth a baby “saves” energy for resisting gravitation. Theoretically, it’s also considered that natural childbirth causes a baby suffering from loud noise, unfamiliar smells, and bright light as well as a newborn child burns its lungs with oxygen.
But in practice, it is quite the opposite. A baby leaves the womb and finds itself in a world of agonized silence. According to research cases, the background noise in the womb can be compared to the noise in the machine-shop where ten electric hammers are working. There are also controversial points of view on the influence of gravitation on a baby. During childbirth a baby is experiencing great pressure, that’s why when it is born it inevitably feels relief which isn’t at all connected to the place where it’s been born – in the water or natural way.
There are few certain types of research comparing water birth to natural birth. In fact, there is only data comparing 250 different deliveries taken in different ways. According to the results, it turned out that there is little to no difference in the course of the delivery, except that the women who choose water birth are usually calmer because the expectation of painless delivery in the water is of great importance.
Water birth pros and cons
The most positive aspect of the water birth for a woman is less painful contractions. Contractions in the water are often compared to tidal waves. It is easier to choose the least painful position in the water (if the volume of the bath allows), to get rid of the outward pressure. Of course, warm water has fantastic relaxing qualities.
There are other factors of water birth that are considered positive. For example, many women who choose water birth admit the fact that the first period of delivery in the water is several times shorter than natural ones. That’s why doctors recommend even the future mothers who don’t want to give birth in the water to pass the time of contractions in a warm bath and then move into bed. But will you always be provided a pool with jacuzzi in maternity hospital?
Some women also claim that due to the water birth it is possible to avoid superfluous medications. They say that stimulation, episiotomy, and forceps are not used during the water birth. But is everything really so unclouded? The answer is ambiguous. Childbirth is an unpredictable event. You should be ready for most different pleasant and unpleasant surprises.
The most part of negative consequences of water birth fall at the newborns. Fortunately, the statistics are not shocking. The risk of complications is unpredictable even if the birth is natural, and in the water it only increases. The most dangerous possibility is that water will get into baby’s lungs. Such a thing usually results in failure. But the experts insist that giving birth in the water is not dangerous. The baby makes respiratory movement only when it is moved into the air.
A serious complication of water birth is tearing off of the umbilical cord and bleeding as well as the infection because water in the pool can’t remain uncontaminated for a long time. After 3-4 hours the water is teeming with dangerous bacilli. But it is said that air is even more contaminated and teemed with bacilli and bacteria.
To be or not to be
The answer to this question always depends on the parents. But even if a woman wants to give birth in the water there are a number of contra-indicative factors:
- cardiovascular diseases;
- narrow pelvis and big fetus;
- breech birth;
- a risk of hypoxia of the fetus;
- a woman’s mental instability.
In any of named cases, water birth is contraindicated. If none of these is true for you, and your wish to give birth in the water is well-grounded and confirmed with knowledge and skills – go ahead. But consider these important issues:
- A competent and, of course, experienced midwife should supervise water birth;
- It’s better to give birth in the water in maternity hospital which is provided with pools for delivery;
- A bath for water birth should be deep enough (at least 24 inches) and wide (88 inches);
- The water temperature should be at least 98.6°F, but not too high because temperature differences are dangerous for health of the mother and the child;
- The water should be changed every 3-4 hours, otherwise, the bacteria begin to spread in it;
- Assure strict maintenance of antiseptics in the bath;
- It is not allowed to use any medications during water birth, so that if the baby swallows a gulp of water from the bath by accident it won’t take dangerous medications with it;
- You should provide additional medical aid just in case, especially if water birth is given at home;
- Watch your condition; if you feel any discomfort in the water you should leave the bath immediately;
- Pay attention to your midwife, you should trust her.
Women giving birth in the water very often stay in the bath only during the contractions and then get out of the bath and continue in a natural way. You should decide which way you prefer. But it should be well-considered and mutual decision. You, your family and your doctor should become a single whole during water birth: trust and understanding are the main constituent of successful delivery.