Water Birth
Easing Labor and Delivery

So, you’re pregnant and might be interested in using water for labor and even for birth? Is it safe? What are its benefits? Where can you go to be able to use it?

The use of water for labor and birth has been around for thousands of years. The first recorded modern water birth took place in France in 1803. Today the use of water for labor and birth has become more popular and widely accepted. The popularity of midwives, traditionally known to use alternative natural birthing methods, has also helped to promote the use of water for pain relief and for birth.

Why use water for labor?

Soaking in a warm tub appeals to most pregnant women. Surrounded by warmth and weightlessness, women are comforted and experience less pain.

With sensory stimulation decreased, a woman’s body produces stress-related hormones, pain inhibitors and endorphins to complement labor.

Laboring women who can relax physically also relax mentally, producing an analgesic effect on labor pains.

The buoyancy of the water helps a laboring woman to move freely around in the water to find a comfortable position.

French physician Michel Odent, author of Birth Reborn, has attended thousands of laboring women at a general hospital in Pithivers, France that provides water tanks to all laboring women. He claims that water shortens labor, reduces pain sensation, and facilitates birth.

The warmth and elasticity of water help to reduce the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for episiotomies.

Why doesn’t the baby breathe under water?

It is not until the infant’s skin comes in contact with the air that the physiological process resulting in a first breath begins. Receptors on the infant’s mouth and nose and changes in air pressure and temperature also contribute to the first breath. In the first seconds after birth, when the infant is in contact with the water and is physically under it, he continues to receive oxygen through the umbilical cord connected to his mother. Nevertheless, it is not safe for the infant to remain under the water for more than a few moments because the placenta may detach from the wall of the uterus and disrupt the flow of oxygen through the umbilical cord.

What about infection?

Studies have determined that the mother and the baby are not at any greater risk for infection from laboring or delivering in the water. The concentration of bacteria in and around the vagina is diluted by the water, lessening the possibility of infection.

When can I get into the water during labor?

Recommendations about when to enter the water vary from practitioner to practitioner. Most feel that if a woman enters the water too early, labor may be impeded, making the latent phase even longer. Many, therefore, want a laboring woman to be actively laboring, or 5 to 6 centimeters dilated, before entering. There is generally no harm done if the water is entered earlier; you may just have to get out if labor stalls.

Where is water available for labor and/or birth?

Check with your midwife or doctor to see where they have delivery privileges and find out whether they encourage water for labor and/or birth. Contact birth centers or hospitals and ask what the policies are for laboring and/or delivering in the water.

Cathy Parisi, CNM, is a certified nurse-midwife who attends women and their families at the Connecticut Childbirth & Women’s Center in Danbury and Danbury Hospital. She lives in Bethel with her husband Peter and their three children. She has attended many water labors and water births.


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