Pregnancy and you blog

Labor pain: Soak it away

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. November 16, 2010

To me, water is the most relaxing element. When I was in labor with my son, I relaxed at home under a spray of hot water in the shower until the hot water ran out. What propelled me to the hospital was the thought that the hospital never ran out of hot water. If I'd had access to a tub while I was in labor, I would have soaked like a sea otter.

Today, many hospitals and other birth facilities offer tubs for water immersion during labor. During water immersion, you simply soak in warm water that's deep enough to cover your abdomen. The warm water can enhance your relaxation and help you cope with contractions. It might even decrease your labor pain. You're free to get in and out of the tub as you like, even after your water breaks. Unlike a water birth, however, the baby is delivered outside the tub.

If you're considering water immersion during labor:

  • Get your health care provider's OK. Water immersion is safe for most pregnant women, but it's off-limits if you have high blood pressure or a fever.
  • Enlist support. Make sure someone is available to help you get out of the tub, either at home or at the hospital. You're not likely to be especially graceful when you climb out of the tub. Add contractions to the mix and negotiating the tub on your own might be an accident just waiting to happen. If the tub is large enough, you might invite your support person to join you.
  • Consider your clothing. If you don't want to be naked in the tub, consider wearing a sports bra. If your support person is in the tub as well, he or she can wear a bathing suit.
  • Check the water temperature. Make sure the water isn't too hot. Generally, the upper limit is 101 F (38 C). At home, use a thermometer to check water temperature. Keep in mind that the tub water may feel warmer if your water breaks while you're in the tub.
  • Don't worry if your water breaks. Amniotic fluid is sterile. If your water breaks while you're soaking in the tub, there's no need to change the water.
  • Stay hydrated. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water while you're soaking in the tub.
  • Time it right. Save water immersion for active labor. Soaking too soon may slow down your labor.

If you're using a tub in the hospital, your baby's heart rate may be checked periodically with a water-safe monitor. Cervical exams can be done in the tub, too. Guidelines may differ from facility to facility, however. If you're planning to use a tub during labor at a hospital or other birth facility, ask about the guidelines ahead of time so the only surprises will be the ones labor has in store for you.

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Nov. 16, 2010