Water birth: the 411 on the H2O!
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
“Oh you’re a midwife, what do you think of waterbirths? I think I’d really like to have a waterbirth”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line kick start a conversation about birthing options in general and birthing in water in particular. So what do I think?
Well, to be honest, the first thing I think is “to each her own; you want to birth in water? Go for it sis!”. And that only reflects my basic philosophy about birth locations and positions - it’s the birthing person’s choice! If the divine intelligence within her moves her to give birth on land, great! If the divine intelligence within her moves her to give birth in water, wonderful! At the end of the day, it really should be her choice.
Having said that though, I appreciate how deeply ideas of control and dictatorship have usurped the very feminine process of pregnancy and birth and, in the reclamation of her right as Mother, to actively participate in and hold ownership of the birth process, women may need to have their wishes validated and supported.
Laboring and giving birth in water actually provide quite a few benefits that have been researched and reported on. Evidence Based Birth notes that some of the benefits associated with waterbirth include less use of medication for pain relief, lower episiotomy rates, less use of synthetic oxytocin and possibly shorter labors.
From my observation of women who planned waterbirths, there’s something intensely soothing about submerging the body in water. Women in hard labor sigh and smile when they enter the water; their bodies relax as they surrender to the buoyancy of the pool. For some women, the warmth and the water are just what they need to take the edge off the intensity of their contractions. Other women relax to the point of being able to sleep a little in that “rest and be thankful” phase.
The benefits of waterbirth could extend to baby too but the research on that isn’t as pronounced as the research on the benefits to mom. In the majority of waterbirths I’ve witnessed the babies seemed content with mom being in the water but there were one or two where baby clearly was not feeling it (and once mom got out of the water baby was happy again).
So here’s the thing about birthing in water, it truly isn’t for everybody. What do I mean by that? Well sometimes a woman may plan the perfect waterbirth, calm and serene and gentle, but when she transitions to the pushing phase of her journey there’s just something about the water that she can’t tolerate. One client I had said the buoyancy, the very thing that calmed her during labor, was too unsettling, too unstable during the pushing phase. What she needed in that phase was the firm grounding of the land. And until she got that, she wasn’t able to focus on the work of pushing her baby out.
My big takeaway from the many waterbirths I’ve witnessed, and my advice to anyone considering a waterbirth, is follow your intuition...and be open to however your personal birth experience unfolds.
For more information on the benefits and risks of waterbirth check out this article by Evidence Based Birth: https://evidencebasedbirth.com/waterbirth/