If you are expecting a baby, you may be considering water birth as a labour option. There are many myths about having a child while immersed in water, though.
Is it just an 'eccentric' trend? Is it more beneficial than giving birth out of the water? Does it pose any risks for the newborn?
In the following article, we'll try to shed light on these questions and other aspects of water birth. That way, you will count on the best information to decide whether it's worth trying it or not.
What is water birth, actually?
Talking about water birth, we should start by saying that it's not a new thing. Historians have revealed that women from the ancient Greece and Egypt used to deliver their babies in the water. Some traditions remain forever, they say, and water birth must be one of them!
And what does it consist in? As you may already know, its whole point is based on trying to use the water’s effect, which is relaxing and warm, so it can help you through either labour or delivery or both.
Who can do it?
Unfortunately, water birth is not a safe option for all women. If you've been having complications during your pregnancy, your GP will be the one to decide whether it's safe or not. Most likely, you won't be able to choose this special way of welcoming your baby, if:
- The baby comes prematurely
- Your pregnancy lasts more than 40 weeks
- You are either too young, less than 17, or at a risky age, older than 35
- You are expecting twins or multiples
- You are hypertensive or hypotensive
- You have an infection or you are likely to have one
- You've suffered from gestational diabetes or preeclampsia while being pregnant
- The baby is upside-down in the womb
- Your have a big son or daughter on the way
Swings and roundabouts
Depending on who you ask, water birth can be either a marvellous experience or a scary one, with more risks than benefits. Given the controversy, it's good for you to know the advantages and disadvantages of labour in the water, so you can make your own judgement.
In general, experts tend to point out water birth strengths such as:
- It makes labour more pleasant, since it helps soothe the pain
- Your body relaxes and it is more likely to produce oxytocin, the hormone in charge of uterine contractions, and endorphins, the ones responsible for comfort
- Sometimes, it is linked to faster labour because it helps you reduce adrenaline, the hormone that causes stress and tension
- It may be easier for you to deliver in the water rather than outside of it
- Floating in the water can help you move better than in a bed
However, water birth is far from being perfect. Its flaws are multiple as well:
- You may have to leave the pool if labour complications arise, making it harder to treat them
- Your baby will be exposed to many risks that, while not being common, can definitely be health-threatening.
- If you need a strong pain reliever, such as an epidural, you won't be able to stay in the water. Water birth doesn't always keep contraction pain under control
- There are some obstacles for doctors when they have to monitor your baby in the water. For example, they can't use electric sensors
So, how does water birth work?
If you decide on water birth, you will first have to choose where you want to have it. If you have space and the necessary assets, a big tub or a pool, you can do it at home. If not, you can look for hospitals that offer this possibility, or even birthing centres that exist just for this purpose.
Once you have a place arranged, your midwife, trained for the occasion, will fill the pool with water at a temperature of 37ºC. You won't get inside until your cervix is dilated in 4 or 5 cm, because the point is for water birth to speed up your labour (if you start too early, you may get too relaxed and accidentally slow down the process). Once in the water, your midwife will probably make you drink liquids, which is meant to help your body release oxytocin.
From that point on, each experience is unique. Some women leave the tub when their cervix is fully dilated and they are ready to start pushing out the baby. Others prefer to remain in the water for delivery, which isn't proven to have any medical influence on your baby besides him or her being calmer and possibly crying less. Some water birth enthusiasts claim that giving birth in the water helps the baby’s transition to the outside world, since the water makes an environment more similar to the inside of the womb. However, there is no way for us to know how birth feels like!
What are the risks of water birth?
As mentioned previously in the disadvantages section, there are indeed many risks for your little one linked to water birth. These are some of the most relevant ones:
- Higher chance for him (and you) to get an infection
- There's a risk that the umbilical cord could snap before the baby is out of the water
- Your baby could inhale water
- The oxygen supplied by the placenta could be affected in the middle of the process
- He could undergo seizures and not be able to breathe
- It can have an impact on the baby's temperature, too high or too low
- Though it's very rare, there's always the risk of the baby drowning
What precautions should you take?
There are some precautions that you can take in order to make water birth safer. For a start, you should talk to a doctor and ask for advice, especially about the place where you are going to deliver. The chosen tub or pool has to fulfill quality standards in terms of good maintenance, preventing you and the baby from getting any infection. You should make sure that the people who will monitor you both have experience in water birth and that there's a plan to take you out of the pool in case something goes wrong. The water temperature has to be 37ºC degrees, neither colder nor hotter. And for yourself, don't forget to keep hydrated by drinking a lot of liquids while delivering.
How much is it?
Water birth costs vary depending on the way you decide to have it. Many hospitals in the UK have birth pools available, though they can't be booked. It doesn't have extra costs, since it's covered by the national healthcare. If, instead, you plan on having it at home, you can rent or buy a special tub for a price than ranges from 100 up to 400 pounds.