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Water Birth
If you enjoy relaxing in a warm bath, you may be tempted to spend part or all of your labor in water. While many hospitals provide showers and even baths for laboring mums, some are even permitting water births!

Proponents of water births attest to the many benefits of water immersion:
  • It may reduce the pains and discomforts of early labor.

  • It may improve relaxation during labor and reduce the need for medication.

  • Birthing into water can be a gentle way for baby to transition to the outside world. Babies born underwater may open their eyes and look around. They still receive oxygen through their umbilical cord while the placenta remains attached.
A number of medical studies have tried to assess the safety of water births, and most have found that under proper circumstances they can be safe for mothers and babies. Furthermore, births in water result in less need for pain medication, and fewer episiotomies and severe tears with delivery. There have been reports citing less blood loss with delivery and no difference in the rate of infections compared to “land” births.

Some opponents of water births cite a concern about baby’s safety and worry about occasional complications that have been reported with this type of birth. Although there have been a few reports of babies dying following water births, research studies have shown that these tragic losses have not occurred more frequently than following conventional births with low-risk mothers.

Michel Odent, the famous obstetrician who pioneered water birthing in the West, has written a number of articles about water births. He proposes that there is an immediate surge of oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates uterine contractions, upon entering the water, which lasts about one and a half to two hours. He suggests that laboring women who wait until 5 centimeters dilation to enter the tub may have a shortened labor. Entering water sooner may be relaxing and soothing but may also result in a prolonged labor.

He also reminds us that water should be no warmer than body temperature (never above 37° Celsius) to avoid overheating the mother or the baby. Finally, he advises couples to be open minded about the delivery rather than making a strict commitment to deliver underwater. There are a number of conditions that could necessitate leaving the tub to deliver in a more standard manner.

While delivering in water may seem unconventional, water births are conducted throughout the world and are gaining wider acceptance. I had never thought about delivering in water until I viewed an incredible video called “Birth Into Being: The Russian Waterbirth Experience.” I highly recommend that anyone curious about water births see this movie or another film called “Water Babies” as an introduction to this fascinating concept.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist