Written on 14 August 2018
A water birth is when you spend at least part of your labor or delivery (or both) in a birthing pool filled with warm water. Although it's generally accepted among many midwives, it is not widely practiced by doctors, since delivering in water can put your baby at risk for a number of rare but dangerous conditions and no scientific studies have confirmed the benefits during the second stage of active delivery, when the baby is pushed out.
In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly cautions against water immersion during baby's delivery, since it can lead to potentially serious and even fatal conditions in newborns. Instead, ACOG recommends laboring in water but delivering on land.
The benefits of water birth
Water birth during the first stages of childbirth — while the cervix dilates and contractions pick up in frequency and intensity, before pushing baby out — may:
Decrease pain or your need of anesthesia
Decrease the duration of labor
Give you a greater sense of control
Conserve your energy
Reduce perineal trauma
Reduce the likelihood of an episiotomy (though this practice is rarer these days, no matter how or where you deliver)
Even if you decide not to stay in a birthing tub for long — whether it's because you're uncomfortable or your hospital doesn't allow it — you may find it's relaxing to begin labor in the water.
The downsides and risks of water birth
Since babies don't breathe in utero, in theory your baby shouldn't start breathing until he comes out of the water and into the air. But ACOG still says no when it comes to actually giving birth in the water. If your baby does happen to take a breath while he's submerged, it can cause potentially serious complications, including drowning and meconium aspiration.
Planning for your water birth
After getting approval from your hospital or birthing center for a water birth, find out if you need to bring your own equipment.
What happens when you go into labor
When you go into labor, call your practitioner, then fill up your tub and wait for her to arrive before getting in. Once you're in, have your partner adjust the water as necessary so the temperature remains between 95 and 100 degrees and no higher than 101 (otherwise your body temperature could rise, causing the baby's heart rate to increase). Have plenty of drinking water on hand, along with a few washcloths your coach can dampen with cold water to help cool off your face or neck. Your practitioner will monitor your baby's condition with an underwater Doppler device.
When it comes time to push, make sure you've already discussed your plan with your practitioner, as this is the most potentially dangerous part of a water birth, and pushing and delivering underwater is advised against by the experts. Your partner can be in the tub or pool with you during the rest of labor to support you and then get out of the water when you're ready to push to play catch (literally) with the baby.
Keep in mind that if you ignore ACOG's recommendations and decide to deliver underwater, not only is your baby at risk for the aforementioned complications, but the umbilical cord can tear, cutting off your little one's oxygen lifeline. That puts him in further danger because when the placenta separates from the uterus (which can happen at any time after delivery), it can no longer provide your baby with sufficient oxygen.
Once baby arrives, your practitioner will place him upright on your chest, where you can finally say your first face-to-face hello!
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