Water Birth

What is water birth?

Water birth is the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water. Some women choose to labor in the water and get out for delivery. Other women decide to stay in the water for delivery as well. The theory behind water birth is that the baby has been in the amniotic sac for 9 months and birthing into a similar environment is gentler for the baby and less stressful for the mother. It is the belief of midwives, birthing centers and a growing number of obstetricians, that reducing the stress during labor and delivery also reduces fetal complications. Water birth should always occur under the supervision of a midwife, physician or birthing center.

What are the potential benefits of water birth observed by midwives and birthing centers?

Benefits for Mother:

  • Water is soothing, comforting, relaxing.
  • In the later stages of labor, the water seems to increase the women’s energy.
  • The buoyancy lessens her body weight, allows free movement and new positioning.
  • Buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and better blood circulation, resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.
  • Immersion in water often helps lower high blood pressure caused by anxiety.
  • Water seems to alleviate stress-related hormones, allowing the mother&'s body to produce endorphins, which are pain-inhibitors.
  • Water causes the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, which reduces the incidents and severity of tearing and the need for an episiotomy or stitches.
  • As the laboring women relaxes physically she is able to relax mentally, concentrating her efforts inward on the birth process.
  • The water provides a sense of privacy, which releases inhibitions, anxiety, and fears.

Benefits for Baby:

  • Provides a similar environment as the amniotic sac.
  • Eases the stress of the birth, providing reassurance and security.

What are the risks to the mother and baby?

Over the last 30 years as water birth has grown in popularity, there has been very little research done to determine the risks of water birth. Some studies have been done in Europe demonstrating similar perinatal mortality rates between water births and conventional births.1 According to an article by the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists, there may be a theoretical risk of water embolism, which is when water enters the mother’s blood stream.2 Though the British Medical Journal is 95% confident in water births, they do see a possible risk for water aspiration. If the baby is experiencing stress in the birth canal or the umbilical cord becomes kinked or twisted, the baby may gasp for air, possibly inhaling water into the lungs.3 This would be rare, as babies do not inhale air until they are exposed to air. They receive oxygen through the umbilical cord until they start to breathe on their own or until the cord is cut. The final potential risk to consider is that the umbilical cord could snap as the baby is brought to the surface of the water. This is preventable by recognizing the possibility of a short umbilical cord and using caution when lifting the baby up to the mother’s chest.