Birthing in the water is a safe and personal choice available to midwifery clients (home or birth center) and occasionally clients birthing in the hospital. Water is supportive, relaxing, and pain-relieving. For many women, it’s heaven in labor and feels perfect for birth. Watching women labor in the tub, I can attest to the dramatic shifts that happen when the women *finally* get in the tub.
BUT we also know that being fully submerged to the point of buoyancy can slow an early labor or speed up an active labor. We definitely want to use the birthing pool strategically. Some of the researched and obvious benefits are:
- Reduced muscle fatigue
- Relaxation of mind and body
- Enhanced mobility
- Pain relief
- Higher rates of intact perineum *
- Less blood loss*
Ultimately, the pain relief comes from the first 3 benefits listed. Mothers and partners can more easily receive their own babies when in the water. There’s less concern of losing your grip on a slippery baby, as they literally swim out into the water and into their parents hands with just a bit of guidance.
Moving in labor is highly encouraged. Some women get great relief from being submerged in a deep pool of water. Having a break from gravity often helps laboring women change positions easier and even rest more in between surges as they can fully release their body.
The supportive and all-encompassing aspect of a water birth is womb like and offers an even more intimate space for babies to be born. Midwives love when women and their partner are connected and uninterrupted as possible during labor and water really facilitates this environment.
This, however, can also create some ‘cons’ to water birth as well.
Many care providers, both midwives and a growing number of OBGYN, who use water tubs in labor are still hesitant about managing birth complications in the water. If baby needs help turning or being born due to shoulder dystocia or malposition, it’s more difficult for your midwife easily maneuver while in the tub.
At a small number of births, bleeding is more than expected immediately after the baby is born. In these cases, midwives need to offer medication or help delivery of the placenta quickly. It can all be done, either in the tub or moving mom and baby, but takes a few extra steps and coordination by the team.
Other recent concerns are for contamination of the water or the concern that baby will not get the benefits of the good bacteria transferred from the birth canal to baby’s gut. Water in the tub can be replaced every 4 hours if used during labor and birth. All home birth tubs come with a new liner and tools to clean and sterilize before and after. Babies are also not “washed” by the passage into the water. The time they are underwater is mere seconds. In most cases, babies do not inhale water because the breathing reflex is triggered by the feel the cool air on their cute little faces.
When you step back from the ‘facts and data,’ women who are called to the water usually birth in the water with zero complications and 100% satisfaction. Other women love the feeling of being on a solid surface with plenty of space and air around them.
Stephanie Berry is the go-to guide for health and well-being at Jade Moon Herbs where she’s using herbal medicine and midwifery to change the world of health care for those of us sporting a uterus. She has supported over 200 women birthing outside of the hospital as a midwife since 2010.
Stephanie realized how much power women hold when she birthed her first baby at home (foot on a cooler, Texas-style) with just the rock solid support of her partner. It led her to create a full-service holistic health practice for women, with women.