Not so long ago, if you were planning a water birth, chances are doctors, workmates and possibly older family members would have smirked and even scoffed at the idea. But thanks to numerous formal studies proving its benefits for both mother and baby, it is no longer regarded as ‘alternative’. These days, a labouring woman immersed in a warm pool surrounded by scented frangipani candles is just as likely to be an inner city accountant as a Coromandel yoga teacher.
Even if you’ve never considered water birth, you might be surprised to find yourself adding it to your birth plan, once you’ve read about the many advantages it has to offer. And if you’ve already chosen water birth, it may help to arm yourself with some of the research findings, so you’ve got some fast comebacks to anyone who might question your choice!
Conversely, there could be pressure in your social circle for mums-to-be to have one. If you’re in this position, but don’t feel a water birth is for you, then go with your instincts. It’s your experience and only you can choose what feels right and comfortable for you.
Since time immemorial, the line ‘Fetch warm water’ has popped up when someone is about to give birth, be it in a book, a film, play or a story told by elders around the campfire. So, obviously, there is something in the notion of warm water and having babies!
Labouring and then possibly giving birth in a pool does seem to make sense, and there’s a long list of documented benefits:
Many women who’ve experienced different types of birth rate water birth very highly. They report a more satisfying experience with water birth as it seems softer, more gentle and more relaxing
So, if you like the idea of an intact perenium, less pain, more relaxation, lower blood pressure and a gentler entry into the world for your baby, then water birth is well worth considering.
The mother submerges herself in a pool or tub, between 32 – 37 degrees Celsius, which is around the same as your core body temperature. Staying in the water during labour can help reduce the pain of contractions, especially in the lower back. You may choose to actually give birth in the water, although extreme care is required to ensure the newborn baby doesn’t inhale water with their first breaths.
The pool needs to be deep enough to cover your entire belly. And clean enough to drink! It doesn’t have to be sterile, although the tub should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in between births. Adding salt or essential oils is not recommended.
Keep in mind that if you enter the tub or pool too early, you may find yourself so relaxed that the level of oxytocin in your body may drop, leading to a slowdown in labour. Getting out of the pool and having a walk around can reduce the effect of labour slowdown.
Many New Zealand obstetricians and midwives are in favour of water birth, while the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives both go so far as to explicitly support ‘Immersion in a pool during labour and birth’.
Studies critical of waterbirth generally give evidence from poorly managed or unmonitored water births by inexperienced care providers. As with any birth, things can go wrong, with even a simple complication having potentially devastating effects if there isn’t a midwife or doctor on hand.
For example, an inexperienced care provider may find it difficult to determine maternal blood loss in a pool.
Some New Zealand hospitals and birth centres offer water birth. Ask about facilities when you next see your doctor or attend an antenatal appointment. But be sure to book early as waterbirth facilities are still limited and are very popular!
Many private midwives who attend homebirth will support you in a water birth. Some even offer birth pools as part of their service for free or for an extra fee. You can also hire birth pools for a fee.