Water birth is the process of giving birth in a big bath and volume of warm water. They are usually available in Birthing Centres and you can also hire ones to use at a home birth. Some women choose to labour in the water and get out for delivery. Other women decide to stay in the water for the birth as well. The theory behind water birth is that since the baby has already been in the amniotic fluid sac for nine months, birthing in a similar environment is gentler for the baby and less stressful for the woman birthing.
How does being in warm water help you?
Warm water is soothing, calming and relaxing. Think of all the times having a bath eased sore muscles or period pain.
The effect of buoyancy makes you feel lighter and makes it easier to move and get into more comfortable positions. This buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and improved blood circulation resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for you, and more oxygen for your baby.
Immersion in warm water also helps to lower blood pressure which is often raised in labour due to anxiety and stress from contractions.
The water seems to reduce adrenalin, the stress-related hormone, allowing your body to produce endorphins which are your natural pain-inhibitors. Since the water provides a greater sense of privacy, it can reduce inhibitions, anxiety, and fears allowing you to more easily stay calm and focus on your birth.
How does being in warm water help your baby?
Your baby has been in a warm wet environment and so being born into another warm, wet environment makes the transition to being on dry land less stressful. Your baby will go quickly from being buoyant in the water to being in your arms. You will naturally hold your baby close to your heartbeat, so to your baby, it will all be very familiar.
Being in water is safe for healthy babies and their heartrate can be monitored at regular intervals by a waterproof doppler. If there are any concerning changes to your baby’s heartrate the midwife will ask you to get out of the pool.
Babies born in water are still receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord which continues to flow after birth, they often take a little longer to take that first big breath because they are less stressed. If your water born baby doesn’t cry immediately don’t worry, the midwife will be keeping a close eye on your baby’s tone and colour to work out whether they need to help. Usually the stimulation you provide by talking and stroking your baby will be all that is needed to encourage that first big breath.
Often babies born in water are more relaxed and chilled afterwards, their birth has been gentle and they have no need to be stressed. This often makes for good breastfeeding and a more settled start to life.
When may a birthing pool not be suitable?
If your pregnancy has been complicated and your baby is not well grown there may be reasons for continuous heartrate monitoring in labour which is not possible in the water. If you are high risk for heavy bleeding then it will be safer to birth on dry land. It is better not to deliver your placenta in water as it will be difficult to assess blood loss accurately and potentially difficult to move you out of the pool if you are feeling weak and faint.
You may be asked to get out of the water if your labour slows down. Getting into a birthing pool too soon will often cause this problem. If possible, wait until towards the end of your labour before getting in. The pain-relieving effect of the water will be greater and your labour is far less likely to slow down.