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Water Birth: The Risks and Benefits

Katlyn Joy |23, January 2014


Giving birth in water may sound a bit out there or radical. However, in much of Europe it is widely used childbirth method, and is gaining ground right here in the US.

Today many birthing centers and even conventional hospitals are using birthing tubs regularly. Differences in opinions arise when discussing how long a laboring woman should stay in the tub. Some merely labor in the tub, and then get out of the water for the actual delivery. Others stay put for the whole labor and birth.

Advantages of Water Births

According to the group, Waterbirth International, there are many advantages to a water birth including:

  • Shortens labor time.
  • Enables mother to easily assume the most comfortable position for labor and change positions easily.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Helps mother relax.
  • Lessens the need for pain medication, due to reduced pain and discomfort.
  • Water supports mother, helps her feel less pull of gravity.
  • Helps mothers rest more, conserve energy.
  • Reduces perineal trauma.
  • Reduces birth interventions.
  • Lowers c-section rate.
  • Creates a gentle birth experience.

Buoyancy helps lift the mother's weight, allowing her to move more easily and waste less energy. It also helps a mother feel more in control. For example, she doesn't need a spotter to merely turn over.

Also, the buoyancy of the water improves blood circulation for both the mother and her baby, and results in better muscle oxidation, particularly the uterus. It also makes the contractions more efficient.

Since water is so relaxing, it increases endorphin levels, which reduces pain perception.

The perineum is more elastic and relaxed in water, which allows for easier stretching and less likelihood of tearing or trauma to the vaginal opening.

Is Water Birthing Safe?

The easy answer is yes... if women are properly attended to, follow safety and hygiene standards. However, there are some cases of near drowning or other serious complications arising from water births.

A 2005 study published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine looked at 1600 water births in an 8 year period. The findings were positive regarding water birth, stating that water births significantly reduced the duration of the first stage of labor, reduced the rate of episiotomies, and found none of the women who labored in water required analgesics.

However, there have not been a great many studies done in this area, and some known risks do exist for mother and child laboring and birthing in water. These include:

  • Risk from baby swallowing water.
  • Risk of electrolyte problems.
  • Oxygen getting cut off to baby underwater, resulting in brain injury.
  • Increased risk of infection from contaminated water.

If a woman has high blood pressure, it is unlikely that her physician will allow her to have a water birth. If mom has any infection, or STD, she will most likely be barred from a water birth. Those in preterm labor will not be allowed to give birth in a birthing tub, either. Women having multiples or a breech baby may be permitted to try a water birth.

Tips and Questions to Ask When Having a Great Water Birth

  • Does the facility you plan to birth at have facilities for a water birth?
  • Decide how you can be most comfortable for the water birth.
  • Will you prefer wearing at least a swim or sports bra? Will your support person join you in the tub?
  • How hot is the water?
  • Remember you can't be left alone laboring in a tub. It's too risky for you to try getting in and out of the tub on your own due to the slippery environment.
  • Stay hydrated. Being in a tub too long can cause dehydration.
  • Don't worry about your water breaking; amniotic fluid is sterile.

Related Articles

What to Expect When Your Water Breaks

Difference Between Breaking Your Water & Stripping Membranes

Is a Home Birth for You?

How Much Does it Cost to Give Birth in the US?

Safety of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean


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