Water Birth 101: The Aquatic Journey

Having a baby is a beautiful and life-changing experience that you want to be perfect. Creating a birth plan is the first step to making your dream a reality.

The rising popularity of midwives and natural-style births is giving traditionalhospital births a run for their money. Both options have exceptional benefits. Picking a plan, and sticking to it, can be overwhelming; especially if it is your first baby.

Water births are a birthing method many natural moms are steering toward. This method may not even be on your radar yet. Let’s see if looking at some of the pros and cons of this aquatic journey can make you rest assured in your chosen birth plan.

Midwives, or birthing centers, will typically be more supportive of a water birth than a hospital would. Don’t be so quick to rule out a water birth though if you are having a hospital birth.

There are natural moms that have a hospital birth, either because of financial reasons or preference. Most insurance companiesdo not fully cover the cost of a midwife. There are advocacy groups, like Waterbirth International,that can talk with hospital staff about getting a birthing tub in your room.

Doctors are hesitant to indulge water birth requests because of the risk of infection, which is something to consider if you go this route. What To Expect reported:

“delivering in water can put your baby at risk for a number of rare but dangerous conditions and no scientific studies have confirmed the benefits during the second stage of active delivery, when the baby is pushed out.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) do not support water immersion during delivery because it “can lead to potentially serious and even fatal conditions in newborns.”

They have no problem supporting the use of a birthing pool for laboring but suggest an air delivery.

The “potentially serious and even fatal” complication they are speaking of is Legionnaires’ disease, drowning, and meconium aspiration. The latter two are preventable in most cases by an experienced midwife. The Legionnaires’ disease, however, is much harder to prevent, albeit rare.

This disease is caused by the bacterium Legionella. It enters the baby’s lungs either by inhaled mist or droplets or if it is aspirated. Once the baby contracts the bacteria, symptoms manifest typically within a couple days.

The baby often makes a full recovery with a quick diagnosis, treatment with antibiotics, and rest. Having your newborn baby in critical condition shortly after birth is devastating.

Aspiration of birthing pool water is unlikely; babies are born with a reflex called “dive reflex”. This closes off airways until the baby gets his or her first stimulation by air. Making sure your baby is slowly taken out of the water, without resubmerging, is essential.

The CDC reported in the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”:

“during the first 4 months of 2016, two cases were reported in infants, both of whom were delivered at home in a birthing tub (water births).Investigation of this case revealed that the water birth had taken place in a rented jetted Jacuzzi hot tub. The tub had been filled with municipal tap water using a newly purchased hose and maintained at 98.0°F (36.7°C) in the bedroom for a week before the delivery. During the birth, the mother labored outside the tub and entered the tub for delivery only. No aspiration by the infant was noted. Although the tub for delivery in the first case was filled immediately before the birth, tap water is not sterile, and Legionella can grow and spread in man-made water systems, such as plumbing systems. Because both tubs were emptied immediately after the births, no environmental sampling was performed.”

The risk of Legionella can’t be eliminated completely in any water birth because of the warm water being used for the tub, but there are some precautions you can take to reduce risk.

Run hot water through the hose for at least 3 minutes prior to filling the tub to flush out the hose and pipes. Fill the tub right before it is needed, not hours, or days, before. Also, opt for a tub that does not have jets to reduce areas where the bacteria can creep into.

The chance of your little one contracting this disease is very rare, but a concern. Now, let’s look at the pros of the experience for you and the baby.

While in the womb your baby is swimming in warm, comforting amniotic fluid. This waterbed makes the baby buoyant as you bustle about getting the nursery perfect. It also dampens sound and keeps the baby warm.

When you have a water delivery, the baby exits the womb into a condition similar to that of its previous home. This is said to create a less stressful transition for your baby into the busy world.

You need to keep the birthing tub water between 95 and 100 degreesFahrenheit. More than that can cause your body temperature to rise which can increase the baby’s heart rate.

Keep hydrated by having your partner hand you a water bottle often. You can keep cool washcloths by your side to put on your forehead if you feel overheated.

The midwife will keep tabs on your baby using an underwater doppler. If any risks present themselves, you can simply leave the tub until complications cease. Some women with certain risk factors should avoid water birthing. The risks cited by What To Expect include:

-Had a previous difficult labor or delivery, including a prior C-section
-A chronic medical condition including hypertension, diabetes or herpes (which spreads more easily in water)
-A pregnancy complication like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
-A baby in a breech position, since this usually makes a C-section your safest option
-Preterm labor

Submersing in a birthing tub for labor does have unanimous support. The buoyancy of the water allows you to shift to comfortable or optimal, labor positions effortlessly. This gives the woman a better sense of control during labor, which we know is important when your body is operating without your consent.

Labor is usually shortened when in a birthing tub. Endorphins are released as you relax in the warm water which inhibits pain and allows you to work with the contraction, rather than against.

The reduced need for medical intervention is definitely a plus to the water birth experience. With less pain, you will be less likely to grab the anesthesiologist by the arm and demand he do something about the condition you are in.

Conserving your energy is important in the labor phase because you have to endure many hours, but hopefully not too many, of intense discomfort.

Having the energy to push in the delivery phase can give you more awake time with your new blessing after he or she comes.

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Stock up on the water birth equipment needed early to make sure you are able to get everything on time. Your midwife will guide you on what to buy, or rent, before your due date.

Contact your insurance company ahead of time to see if they will cover any of the costs, sometimes they do.

If you are wondering what the experience was like, here are some moms who posted in Baby Centre about just that:

I had a waterbirth with my last child it wasn’t planned and when I went in2 labour and was taken to hospital it was the only room left they talked me in2 the water and I am so glad they did it was amazing the water helped me deal with the pain I was still allowed the gas and air whilst in the water it was great also they let u wear whatever u like I just had an oversized tshirt on, I have 4 children all of whom I delivered with no pain relief apart from gas and air I’m sorry I didn’t try it with the others, I would definitely recommend a waterbirth to anyone.”

“I had a water birth with my 3rd! And plan to have one with my 4th due 20.5.16 most amazing experience and it’s so different from being on a bed. I ( I got in, in the last few mins after a long labour, at 10.04am at 6cm and my princess was born at 10.09am) it relaxes you so much. Definitely getting in sooner this time.”

“I had a water birth 2 weeks ago with my first and cannot recommend enough. I went from 3cm to 8cm dilated in 15mins so was too late for any stronger pain relief and the water helped massively, I felt it helped me keep some control and relax before the final push (labour did slow down towards the end in the water but gave me chance to catch my breath). Baby was so calm afterwards too. Would 100% recommend to anyone who is able.”

Water birthing is not for everyone. You may feel gross sitting in your labor mess, or you may feel like you are floating on a cloud as you sway in the water. Talk about your birth plan with a professional, and your partner, to assess if water birthing is a healthy option for you.

There are a lot of groups and chat rooms to find support in if you choose this birthing method. You may think it sounds scary, but that is what most people think about their first birth in general.

Whether it is a home birth, water birth, birthing center, or hospital birth, just remember that holding your new baby as you both weep in each other’s armsis what is truly important.

Let us know in the comments section below if you had a water birth and what your experience was, or if you are thinking about it and have concerns.