If you feel strongly that you want to avoid using pain-relieving drugs and medical intervention during your labour, it’s worth considering a water birth…
Birthing in a bath!
If you feel strongly that you want to avoid using pain-relieving drugs and medical intervention during your labour, it’s worth considering a water birth. The relaxing effects of warm water can help ease pain and water also supports your body, making it much easier to move about freely. Many women labour in a birthing pool but get out just before the delivery; others give birth in the water. The choice is yours and if you find you don’t like it when B-day comes, the solution is simple: just get out!
What are the benefits of water?
- It relieves pain women who labour in water are far less likely to use medical pain relief – in one study, only 24% of first-time mothers who had water births needed pain-relieving drugs compared to 50% of those who didn’t use water.
- It reduces stress and anxiety which in turn lessens your perception of pain and gives you confidence in your ability to give birth.
- It supports your weight and makes it easier for you to stay upright, helping your pelvis to open up so your baby can pass through. The buoyancy of the water also makes it easier to change positions to help you cope with your contractions.
- It reduces the risk of tearing The water softens the tissues of your perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) making them more supple and able to stretch to accommodate your baby’s head as it passes through. This also means you’re less likely to need an episiotomy.
- It frees feel-good hormones Relaxing in warm water stimulates your body to produce pain-relieving endorphins.
- You can combine it with other forms of pain relief including gas and air, massage, acupressure and aromatherapy. You won’t be able to use a TENS machine in the water; neither can you pethidine, since this makes you drowsy, or an epidural, as it limits your mobility. However, you can choose to get out of the pool to have these at any time.
- It’s peaceful The pool itself is a quiet, private environment which helps you feel safe and secure while you labour.
Most research indicates that water birth is just as safe as giving birth on dry land for healthy women with straightforward low-risk pregnancies, and many experts believe that being born into warm water eases your baby’s transition to the outside world
Is it safe for you?
Most research indicates that water birth is just as safe as giving birth on dry land for healthy women with straightforward low-risk pregnancies. One point to note about water birth is that the law requires that a midwife be with you at all times if you labour in water – something which may not happen with other birth options, given the current well-reported midwife shortages. If you give birth in the water you will probably be asked to get out after the third stage (delivery of the placenta) as there’s a risk you could bleed heavily and it’ll be easier for the midwife to keep an eye on your blood loss out of the water.
Is it safe for your baby?
Your midwife will still be able to monitor your baby’s heart rate while you’re in the water, via a hand-held waterproof Sonicaid, and she’ll ask you to get out if she feels your baby may be in distress. As to the delivery itself, many experts believe that being born into warm water eases your baby’s transition to the outside world. The main concern would be that he may inhale water but all the evidence indicates that this is extremely unlikely. When your baby is born under water he is still attached to you by his umbilical cord and continues to receive oxygen through it. He will not take his first breath until he is brought to the surface of the water, which your midwife will do in the first seconds following his delivery.
How to plan your water birth
Around half of hospitals have birthing pools – find out if yours does, and how many women use it during labour and for the birth itself by logging onto Dr Foster’s birth guide. But bear in mind that just because your hospital has a birth pool doesn’t mean it will definitely be available, or that a midwife experienced in water births will be on duty when you need it. For those reasons, many women who want a water birth hire a pool to take with them to the hospital (you’ll need to check in advance if this is OK) or use at home.
Hiring a pool
Your midwife will have information on companies that hire out pools; alternatively, there are now many more companies that hire them out nationwide. As a rule, aim to rent the pool for two to three weeks either side of your due date in case your baby puts in an early appearance or you go overdue (only 5% of babies are born on their due dates, with most arriving late).
You’ll need a large space to erect the pool – and bear in mind that once filled it will be extremely heavy, so upstairs is not a good idea! Remember too that you’ll need adequate water pressure to fill it quickly and maintain the recommended temperature.
Who can’t have a water birth?
There are circumstances when a water birth isn’t recommended. In general, if there have been any complications in your pregnancy, such as bleeding in late pregnancy, you go into labour early, or your baby is showing signs of distress, you’ll be advised against it. You’ll also be steered away from it if:
- You have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease; or a health problem that can be easily transferred in water, such as herpes.
- You have high blood pressure or develop pre-eclampsia.
- Your baby is very small or has not been growing well during your pregnancy.
- Your labour has been induced.
- You’re having twins or more.Your baby is breech (feet or bottom first).
- If you want to have a water birth at your local maternity unit, it also depends on access to a midwife with experience of water births when you go into labour. If there isn’t one on duty, you’ll probably be asked to get out of the birth pool for the actual delivery.
- Natural induction If you go past your due date, try these natural methods to kickstart your labour.
Find out more
- Dr Foster Birth Guide Check out what maternity services are available in your area.
- National Childbirth Trust has info and advice on birth options.
- Active Birth Centre has advice on birth choices and hires out birthing pools nationwide.
- The Water Birth Book by Janet Balaskas. A comprehensive guide to all aspects of water birth from the leading name in natural and active births, Janet Balaskas. Packed with details on the benefits of water birth for you and your baby, and practical advice on how to arrange and prepare for one.