What Do I Need to Know About Waterbirth?
Midwife Zoe’s How-to Guide to Waterbirth
If you are reading this blog you are probably thinking about having a waterbirth or you are interested in knowing more about what a waterbirth is. Well this is the place for you.
I have been assisting women to birth in the water for about 8 out of my 10 years of practice. It is the most amazing thing to see, a special little bundle coming out swimming. Not only is it is special for the midwife; it is also the most amazing birth for your family or support people to watch.
The women who birth in water are the women who frequently express how unbelievably empowered they feel. There are many reasons for that. One is that they have often chosen to have a waterbirth and by actually following through with what they have chosen to do is exciting. Secondly they didn’t expect to feel so relaxed in the bath or in their birth and they are so thrilled that they experienced a beautiful birth.
The other thing about waterbirth that is so great from a midwifery or medical point of view is that it is a totally hands off birth. So from a woman’s point of view, she has birthed her baby. Nobody has “delivered” her baby. She can say “I did it – I birthed my own baby”. How special is that?
BENEFITS OF A WATER LABOUR AND A WATERBIRTH:
- You can move easier and assume any position due to the water taking some of the gravity
- Speeds up labour if you get in the bath after 5-6cm
- Gives you more feelings of control
- Provides great pain relief and decreases the need for drugs and interventions
- Promotes relaxation
- Conserves your energy
- Gives you a private protected space
- Reduces blood pressure
- Decreases perineal trauma (tears) and eliminates episiotomies
- Reduces caesarean section rate
- Gentler welcome for baby
How amazing do all of those benefits sound?
Of course there are risks and disadvantages with any mode of birth. One of the main disadvantages is that you CAN ONLY use the bath if you are considered LOW RISK in pregnancy and labour. You will know if you are considered a high-risk pregnancy before labour as you would have had complications arise in your pregnancy.
THE RISKS INVOLVED WITH A WATERBIRTH:
Baby breathing under water – The most common question asked by people interested in water birth is ‘What if the baby breathes in water?’ While this is always a theoretical possibility, it is an extremely rare complication. Newborn babies have a natural ‘diving reflex’. When their faces and head are born under the water, the liquid stimulates the nerves on their face allowing the baby to sense the water. Their desire to take a breath in is automatically stopped and their larynx closes over. This means that the baby can cope with ‘waiting’ for the next contraction up to 3 to 5 minutes, with just their head out in the water until their body is born. They still receive oxygen from the mother through the umbilical cord at this stage. Once the baby’s body is born, the umbilical cord tends to ‘spasm’ soon after, reducing the blood flow to the baby. It is then desirable to allow the baby to take a breath soon after birth. This is why the baby is brought to the surface relatively quickly, so they can start to breathe.
Once the baby’s face leaves the water and comes in contact with the air, their facial nerves sense the change and the dive reflex ceases, allowing them to take a breath. Babies born after water birth have equally good Apgar scores as babies born ‘on land’. They don’t have any higher risk of breathing difficulties after birth nor are they any more likely to need care in an intensive care nursery.
Infection – There is no evidence to suggest that mothers are at any higher risk of getting infections in their vaginas or uterus after a water birth. There is also no evidence that mothers should be restricted from using the bath in their labour if their waters have broken. Babies born into water are not at any higher risk of developing an infection when compared to babies born out of water. If you have Group B Strep and have had a dose of antibiotics you can still use the bath. As with rupturing your waters, you can use the bath, there is no indication not too.
You may have to stay out of the pool if your labour develops complications. Having to get out of the water and change the course of your labour may be upsetting for you, but trust your midwife. You will be asked to leave the pool if whilst monitoring your baby’s heartbeat it shows that there is a problem, your labour is progressing very slowly, you start bleeding during labour, your blood pressure goes up, your baby’s first poo known as meconium is detected in your waters, the pool water gets very dirty, or you feel faint or drowsy. Just follow your midwives directions and she will lead the way on where to go from there with your labour.
Many hospitals have policies and procedures written in relation to water births or water immersion, however unfortunately a lot of these policies are for unplanned or accidental water births. Many hospitals have baths installed to allow women to use warm water for pain relief, but generally will not allow women to stay in the water for the birth. If you want to use water during your labour, it’s a good idea to find out while you’re pregnant whether your hospital can provide a bath, shower or pool and midwifery staff to support your choice.
All the best for your labour and birth.
(This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional. All information is written from the experience and knowledge of the person writing the post).