Water birthing – Warm, soothing water surrounding me, my belly, and finally, my baby.
Such tranquility was the aim for my first delivery, but what actually happened wound up being a bit different.
I hired a birth pool and had everything planned out, but it wasn’t meant for me to dip into the warm cosy bath- the pool sprung a leak. Instead of my partner being able to coach me lovingly through contractions, he wound up cleaning many litres of water from the living room floor. Fortunately, my spirits weren’t as dampened as our home, and a warm shower still hit the spot.
For my second birthing, we got it right. I still remember the “Aaaahhhhhh” I felt when melting into what, at the time, felt like my personal hot spring. This time, the midwife had set up everything, and my baby boy was born with ease, and joy -into the water (the photo above is showing my baby son and myself only moments after he was born in the birth pool).
The properties of warm water baths, when used during labor and delivery, are lulling, hushing, settling, and yes, pain-relieving1. As with all things about birthing, it’s important to learn well and plan better. Done correctly, water baths can help an expectant mother maintain her calm, control2 and focus during the birth experience and give baby a very gentle, natural, birth.
Here are 5 tips to help you achieve a great water birth:
#1 Know What to Expect, and What Not
Natural births can be beautiful, rewarding and inspiring of courage -especially when you find yourself able to maintain your will and focus throughout. Hydrotherapy can assist in this by making you more comfortable during labor and delivery. In clinical settings, research has found that women who are immersed in warm water in the first phase of labor tend not to request epidural pain relief, have less pain, overall, and even experience more self esteem3.
#2 Get the Right Water Birthing Pool
The birthing pool should be deep enough to immerse your entire belly into the water2. These are available in Australia from places like BirthPool.com.au and BirthaFloat.com. Your midwife might have her own pool, however, and you may only need to purchase your own sterile liner. There is no need to be unduly worried about infection, however. The rate of infection actually decreases under hydrotherapy as opposed to land labor3.
#3 Make it the Best Timing
There are varying factors that decide the best timing for your water bath:
Whether you choose to deliver the baby into the water, or not.
Your stay in the bath shouldn’t exceed 1-2 hours, to avoid your labor slowing down2.
Some researchers suggest you delay going into the pool until active labor starts2 (+3cm) to prevent labor slowing.
It is also during active labor that water has maximum effect on pain relief and cervical dilation4.
#4 Get Comfortable
Water birthing aid mum’s comfort, before and after giving birth. The position you use can help as well. In general, sitting, squatting or standing positions are best5 for faster delivery and lend more comfort to your back. In a water bath, you’re naturally in a semi-sitting position, which is great, and you can easily go on all fours if you like or even on your knees, while holding on to your partner over the top of the pool.
Water temperature should not exceed 37.5 degrees Celsius.
After delivery, water births also aid health and comfort by softening the perineum to ease the immense stretching that will occur and help avoid episiotomies or tears3.
#5 Don’t Fear Drowning
Remember, baby has been ‘holding her breath’ within the water of the womb for some time now. When using a birthing pool or tub, it is important that when she exits, she comes out fully submerged in the water. Her diver’s reflex allows her to automatically keep holding her breath while immersed. A trained midwife will be careful to make sure to afterwards will raise her head and body gently to the surface for the first breath. Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney found, after studying over 6000 women at a birthing center over a period of twelve years, that “babies born in a semi-seated position [while in water] had a four-and-a-half times”6 higher initial health ratings than women who had vaginal births outside the water. According to Dahlen, “The idea that babies are more likely to drown if born in water, or that rates of tearing and injury are worse, doesn’t hold up.”
There’s great news, too, for those who prefer a hospital setting over a birthing center or home birthing. More and more hospitals in Australia are installing birth pools by popular demand. You can find a listing here.
Best of luck in the planning and carrying out of your water birth!
The Effects of Hydrotherapy on Anxiety, Pain, Neuroendocrine Responses, and Contraction Dynamics During Labor: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904302/
Update on nonpharmacologic approaches to relieve labor pain and prevent suffering: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1016/j.jmwh.2004.07.007/full
Complementary and alternative approaches to pain relief during labor: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2007/256475/abs/
Hydrotherapy and water birth, sink or swim?: a review on the safety and efficacy of water therapy practices in labor and delivery units: http://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/handle/123456789/198573
Observing Position and Movements in Hydrotherapy: A Pilot Study: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mary_Stark/publication/5626016_Observing_position_and_movements_in_hydrotherapy_a_pilot_study/links/5432ba300cf225bddcc7c862.pdf
Top: Image © 2015 Rebekka Atz