Warm water has always been considered to be an effective form of natural pain relief, this may be one of the reasons why more women every year want to labour and give birth in water. Although there have not been extensive studies and research into water births, the studies so far show that there are no reasons to think that a water birth will cause any harm to you or your baby, and that birthing in water makes the experience easier for both mother and baby.
Most hospitals and midwife-led units will have one or more birthing pools although there is no guarantee that it will not be in use when you need it. If you are having a home birth, you can hire or buy your own birthing pool.
If you are considering using water during your labour or your delivery, you should discuss it with your midwife. There may be reasons why she feels that a water birth may not suitable for you, for example in most areas you cannot have a water birth if:
- You are over 100kg
- Baby is in breech position
- You would not be able to get out of the pool quickly enough in an emergency
- You are having a multiple birth
- You want stronger pain relief. You can have entonox in most birthing pools
- Your blood pressure is high/low
- Baby’s heartbeat is irregular
- You require constant monitoring (however, water-proof monitoring tools may be available)
What will happen?
If you are able to have a water birth, the pool will be filled with warm water and will be kept at a level which is above your uterus but below your breasts. While some women may be happy to be naked in the pool, many will wear a bikini top or t-shirt to help them feel more comfortable. You will be advised to drink frequently as being in warm water can cause you to become dehydrated. If you require pain relief, you can use Entonox (gas and air) in the water. As you progress into the second stage of labour, the water temperature will be increased to 37 degrees centigrade. This is the same temperature as the amniotic fluid which surrounds your baby, therefore when the baby emerges into the water, the baby will not breathe until he is brought to the surface, as quickly after the birth as possible and face first. An episiotomy can be carried out in the water if needed. The placenta should be delivered out of the water and if you want a managed third stage of labour (where you receive an injection to speed the delivery of the placenta), this cannot be administered in the water.
Advantages of using water for labour and delivery
- Water is naturally relaxing causing you to breathe deeper, remain calm and cope with contractions better
- Immersed in water you may feel you have more privacy
- The water gives you buoyancy allowing you to move about more easily to get comfortable
- You will always have someone with you as in England you cannot be left alone at any time whilst in a pool
- It is thought to be easier to push a baby out into water rather than into air
- It may be easier to get into an upright position in water to allow gravity to help baby out
- Some people feel that being born into water is less traumatic for the baby
- Reduces the need for an episiotomy
- Reduces the need for an assisted birth or caesarean
- Almost all women who have a water birth feel that they have had a positive experience and request a water birth for subsequent labours.
Disadvantages of a water birth
- Some medical staff feel that there may be a risk of infection to the mother, however, this risk may not be any higher than giving birth out of water.
- If you open your bowels during labour, your midwife/birth partner will use a sieve to remove it from the water. This is perfectly normally and will happen in a birth out of water too but you will be more aware of it in water.
- Stronger pain relief is not available
- If you need to get out of the pool, it may be very demoralising for you and upsetting. You may be asked to get out of the pool if:
- Monitoring has shown a problem
- Labour is not progressing
- You begin to bleed
- Your blood pressure rises (or lowers)
- Your baby’s first poo (meconium) is in your waters
- The water gets very dirty
- You feel faint
If you would like more information on water births talk to your midwife who will be able to help you and answer any questions that you have.
by Jenny, mum to William and James