Pregnancy and you blog

Water birth: Safe for mom and baby?

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. November 30, 2010

I think there's nothing quite as relaxing as a good soak in a warm tub. I'm not sure if men enjoy it as much as women do, since you never see men advertising bubble bath. Still, since being in a tub is so relaxing, I think it makes sense to labor in water. And if water feels good during labor, water birth is sometimes the logical next step.

Water birth may seem revolutionary, but it isn't a new idea. Water birth is a fairly common practice in many European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Many birthing centers and hospitals in the United States have begun installing birthing tubs as well.

During labor, water immersion decreases the need for pain medication. When delivery takes place underwater, there may be less vaginal trauma. In addition, you might like the idea of the baby moving from the fluid environment of the amniotic sac to the warm water of the birthing tub.

You might wonder about many aspects of water birth, too. For example:

  • What happens if my water breaks in the tub? Amniotic fluid is sterile. If your water breaks while you're soaking in the tub, there's no need to change the water. Likewise, water birth doesn't increase the risk of infection.
  • What if I have a bowel movement during labor or delivery? This is every woman's fear, whether delivery takes place in bed or in the tub. If you have a bowel movement while you're pushing in the tub, it'll simply be scooped out with a small fish net.
  • Is it risky for the baby to be underwater after birth? Babies are born with a dive reflex, which allows them to block their throats when underwater. There's no guarantee that the baby won't breathe in fluid from the tub, however. Instances of near-drowning have been associated with water birth.

Water birth doesn't have universal support among health care providers. You might even find that your own health care provider is a proponent of water birth but the baby's doctor doesn't support the practice.

If you're interested in water birth, learn as much as you can. Find out whether water birth is available at your birth center or hospital. Watch water birth videos online. Check out websites that support water birth, as well as those that don't. Then work with your health care provider to make the best decision for you and your baby.

Have you experienced water birth? Or are you considering it? Share your story!

Nov. 30, 2010