Knowledge: Water Birth

Water births can be something of a mystery to many soon-to-be mothers. Only about 10% of hospitals in the U.S. offer water birth services; however, of the birth centers across the U.S., almost 90% offer water immersion labor. These numbers have grown exponentially in the last five years. It’s clear that water births are gaining popularity and are proving to be not only comfortable and less stressful on the body, but also safe and effective. 

The first recorded water birth dates back to 1805 and it is a far cry from the comfortable, relaxing experience that mothers may find today. Water births are a viable option for mothers who prefer a more intimate and comfortable setting to birth in. As long as the mother is healthy and isn’t at risk for any serious complications, there is no reason she shouldn’t consider the experience of a water birth.

What is a water birth?

A water birth is when a mother chooses to undergo some aspect of childbirth in a tub of warm water. However, there are many different stages and options for a mother and her support team (e.g. doula, midwife, or doctor) to consider when deciding on a water birth. The most general form of water birth refers to when the entire labor and delivery are performed in the water. Some mothers choose to go through the labor process in the water and then have a “land birth” delivery (i.e. not in the tub). Others choose to stay in the water even past the delivery for the afterbirth, in which she delivers the placenta.

Whatever method you choose, the water will always be warm and inviting. Most birthing centers, and even some hospitals, have some version of a birthing tub. If you are having a home birth, a water birth is also possible there. They may be provided by your midwife, or may be something you provide. Be sure to ask your midwife what your options are if you’re considering water birth at home.

Why should I consider a water birth?

Birthing tubs are deep and wide, which allows for easy movement. Some birthing tubs can accommodate multiple people, which might be ideal if you want the comfort of your partner there with you. As with every part of pregnancy (birth, and beyond!) there are an abundance of concerns. When one takes the time to look into water births, you will find there are numerous benefits. These include less intense and shorter labor, less pain, and a more positive experience.

Benefits for the baby

The safety of a baby during a water birth is wholly dependent on the individual pregnancy. However, if your pregnancy is low risk, there is usually no reason that a water birth cannot be attempted. In fact, it is commonly believed by mothers and midwives that water births are beneficial to the baby.

A baby develops in the uterus, fully submerged in a watery substance, know as the amniotic fluid. For this reason, many mothers believe that a water birth makes for an easier and less traumatic entry into the world for the child. The warm water of the birthing tub simulates the uterus and provides an easier transition.

Currently, there is not much quantifiable evidence that a baby feels more comfortable during a water birth. However, many mothers and midwives have anecdotally observed that water birthed babies are calmer and more responsive. If you want to create a more relaxing atmosphere for both yourself and your child, a water birth may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Benefits for the mother

Mothers report vast benefits with water births. In fact, a study was just released confirming the safety of water birth! It not only finds that “waterbirth was not associated with increased risk to neonates, extensive perineal lacerations, or postpartum hemorrhage,” but that there are also fewer first and second‐degree tears. 

A water birth is all about comfort and safety. A mother needs to feel safe in order to have a happy, healthy childbirth. A water birth is more intimate; it increases the feeling of privacy and reduces anxiety and inhibitions. For many, the warm water is a form of hydrotherapy that soothes and relaxes them.  

When birthing your baby, it is important that you allow your body to relax and work with the contractions, rather than against them. Tense muscles and high stress levels can interfere with the birthing process, whereas relaxed muscles and a calm atmosphere can bring a sense of peace and focus. The warm, deep water assists in achieving a more relaxed state.

In addition, the water allows for buoyancy, which makes for easier movements. The buoyancy can create better blood flow and the water can also soften the tissue around the perineum and pelvic floor. This means that tears and general labor pains are reduced. Yes, please! Many women report having a shorter labor and that they would not consider having a land birth after experiencing a water birth.

If you and your child are healthy without any risk of birth complications, a water birth may be exactly what you need for a memorable, intimate birthing experience. To find out more, click here.