Water births are making quite a splash of late as celebrities like Jennifer Connelly, Pamela Anderson, Alyson Hannigan, and Gisele Bündchen have brought light to this form of natural childbirth.
Water births are the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water. Some women choose to go through labor in water and deliver outside of the tub. Other women stay in the water for labor and delivery.
The theory behind a water birth is that the baby is already in an amniotic fluid sac for nine months so a water birth is a similar environment and therefore less stressful. Proponents believe that if the birth is less stressful than it reduces the chances of complications.
The Benefits of a Water Birth
Advocates of water births believe that splashing into the world has a number of benefits for baby and mama.
- The buoyancy of the water lessens a mother’s body weight, allowing for more free movement as well as improved blood circulation, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.
- When a woman in labor relaxes in a warm deep bath, free from gravity’s pull on her body, she produces natural pain-reducing endorphins. At the same time, noradrenaline and catecholamines, the hormones that are released during stress, are reduced.
- Water can reduce stress levels in the mother, which can reduce blood pressure spikes due to anxiety.
- Water causes the perineum to become more elastic, reducing the incidence of tears.
Some Doctors Warn Against Water Birth But Advocates Disagree
Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy Of Pediatrics issued a guidance warning parents about the dangers of water births. The guidance cautioned that water birth increase the risk of infection, umbilical cord damage, breathing problems (for babies that ingest too much water), and even seizures. The guidance added that spending early labor in water may decrease pain and quicken delivery, but not actually giving birth in water.
Advocates of water birth strongly disagree. According to Barbara Harper, R.N., founder of Waterbirth International, a nonprofit organization that helps make water births an available option for moms-to-be, “People worry that a mother may release stool in the bath, which will contribute to an increase in infection. And while about 40 to 50 percent of women will have stool come out in the water when the baby is descending and emerging, overall infection rates for water births are reported as less than .01 percent. In fact, some experts feel that the water provides a barrier to infection and dilutes the possible bacteria to the point where the concentration is too low to cause any harm.”
With regards to breathing problems associated with water births, Harper says, “A baby is actually an aquatic animal, receiving all of its oxygen supply from the placental circulation and bypassing its own lungs. The placenta acts as the filtration system and the breathing system for the baby in the womb.”
Other Facts About Water Births
- The cost for a complete water birthing kit is around $250 and some insurance companies reimburse the expense of the pool rental.
- The temperature of the water should be 97 degrees F, and most birthing pools are designed for this.
- Water births are available in some (but far from all) hospitals.
This is not a doctor’s advice. If you’re interested in learning more about water births or natural childbirth, talk to your doctor.
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