Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Water birth has gained a lot of popularity in recent times. Water birth refers to the process of giving birth submerged in a tub of warm water. While some women decide to go through labor in water and then step out for the delivery process, others choose to stay in the water during the entire labor to delivery process. Water births have become popular because of the theory that since the baby spends its nine months in an amniotic sac filled with fluid, giving birth inside water mimics the same environment as that of the womb, deeming it gentler and less stressful for the baby and also the mother. It is also believed that when the stress of labor and delivery is less on the mother, it also lowers the risks of fetal complications during and after birth. Today we look at the pros and cons of water birth and whether it's something you should be considering or not.

What is Water Birth?

Water birth is one of the many birthing options available today. An increasing number of women today are choosing water birth as their preferred birthing method. Water birth is the process of delivering a baby in a tub full of warm water. Some women opt for delivering their baby inside the water itself, while some decide to have the labor process inside the water and then get out of the tub for the actual delivery process.

When you choose water birth as your birthing process, you will be submerged in a tub of warm water and you will give birth to your baby inside the water itself. Many experts suggest that undergoing labor inside the water and then delivering outside of the water is a safer option as then you can not only reap the benefits of hydrotherapy, but you will also have the benefits of delivering your baby in a hospital.

Many hospitals still do not allow water births, but due to the growing popularity of this birthing method, many hospitals have started allowing water births as well.

Pros of a Water Birth

Let us take a look at the potential benefits for the mother:

  • Warm water is comforting, soothing, and helps the mother relax during the stress of labor.
  • Being in the water has shown to increase the mother's energy levels towards the later stages of labor.
  • When you are in the water, the buoyancy effect lessens the weight of the body. This allows the mother to move freely and take new positions with ease.
  • The buoyancy of the water also allows for more efficiency uterine contractions.
  • Buoyancy also improves blood circulation, allowing better oxygenation of the muscles of the uterus. This causes less pain to the mother and also increases the level of oxygen available for the baby.
  • Being submerged in water helps lower the mother's blood pressure, often brought about by the stress of labor and delivery.
  • Water has been shown to lower stress-related hormones. This allows the body to easily produce endorphins, which are known to help relieve pain.
  • Being submerged in the water allows the perineum to become relaxed, helping it become more elastic. This reduces the chances and severity of tearing, thus also reducing the need for stitches or getting an episiotomy.
  • Being in the water allows the mother in labor to relax physically, due to which she is also able to relax mentally. This allows her to focus better on the birthing process.
  • Water also provides a certain sense of privacy, reducing a mother's fears, anxiety, and inhibitions.
  • A water birth also does not prevent the use of medications and the mother can still go ahead and use some form of pain medications in the water.
  • As the water supports your weight, you will find greater relief from the usual aches and pains associated with late pregnancy.

According to a study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2014, women who undergo labor in water have a lower risk of having to undergo a cesarean section.

Women who give birth in water have also reported a much higher birth satisfaction and the chances of postpartum depression are also thought to be significantly reduced in such women. However, more research is required to confirm this link.

Now let us see if there are any advantages of a water birth for the baby:

  • The baby is born into an environment that is similar to the amniotic sac.
  • Water births ease the stress of birth for the infant as well. This increases the feeling of reassurance and helps provide a sense of security to the newborn.

Cons of a Water Birth

While the popularity of water births has been growing steadily in the last couple of years, there is still little research to show whether there are any risks associated with this birthing method. While some studies done in Europe have indicated that the perinatal mortality rates remain the same between conventional births and water births, not much is known otherwise.

Nevertheless, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United Kingdom believe that there is a risk of water embolism, a condition that occurs when water enters into the mother's bloodstream.

Some of the disadvantages of water birth include:

  • If you enter the water before your labor starts, it may slow down the actual onset of labor.
  • Some forms of pain relief cannot be delivered when you are in the water. This is why in an emergency, you may have to abandon the water and have the delivery outside if you end up needing one of these pain relief options.
  • Not all hospitals have water birthing units. You will have to check your doctor or healthcare provider to find out whether you can have a water birth at your selected birth clinic.
  • Water births are more common in home births. If you are planning to have a home birth, then you will need to make the arrangements for having a water birth yourself.
  • You will also need to have a certified and experienced midwife to assist you in the birthing process.
  • While warm water is supposed to provide pain relief during labor, not all women experience this benefit. Some women, though, do not experience any reduction in their pain and feel tremendously disappointed once they are in the water.

Water birth is also not recommended for women who have had a cesarean section earlier or who go into preterm labor. Water birth is also not recommended if you suffer from any of the below-mentioned symptoms or complications:

  • Excessive vaginal bleeding
  • Fever of 38oC (100.4oF) or higher
  • Maternal skin infection or blood infection
  • Sedation
  • Carrying twins or multiples
  • You have a history of shoulder dystocia
  • If the doctor is having difficulty tracing the fetal heartbeat or if the baby's heartbeat needs to be monitor continuously

It is also a possibility, though rare, that some babies born in water may catch some disease or an infection. One common example is Legionnaires' disease, which is caused by aspirating (inhaling) drops of water that contain the Legionella bacteria. This condition can be severe and sometimes even fatal. It causes a cough, fever, pneumonia, and many other complications.

Some of the other risks associated with water birth include:

  • Seizures and asphyxia
  • Baby suffers from respiratory distress from being born in water
  • High chances of umbilical cord damage
  • Trouble regulating the baby's body temperature when born in water

Most doctors suggest against a water birth when you are carrying twins or more than two babies. As pregnancies with multiples have a significantly higher risk of premature births and other complications, they need constant monitoring during both labor and delivery. This is why doctors will generally advise against a water birth when you are carrying multiples.

Conclusion

While there are pros and cons to each birthing procedure, it is always best to consult with your healthcare provider about what option would be the safest and the best for you and your baby. You can also consider discussing with an obstetrician or midwife before deciding your birth plan to understand what your options are. Do keep in mind that some hospitals do not offer water births, while others may allow you to only labor in the water, and have the delivery outside of the tub. If you know of someone who has previously had a water birth, you can learn more from their experiences before deciding whether a water birth is for you or not. Always remember that you must choose a birthing plan that is the best and the safest for you and your baby and don't forget to take the advice of a licensed medical professional before you make your decision.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: December 13, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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