What Are the Benefits and Risks of Water Birth?

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A mom is holding a newborn baby in the water

Are you pregnant and considering your birthing options? Water birth has become more popular over the years, and you have to weigh the risks and benefits of water birth to decide if it’s the right choice for you.  

How you want to birth your baby is up to you; it’s a personal decision. You should research all of the options available to you, and water birth has been a trend on birthing plans for recent years.

So, if your birth plan includes a non-medicated vaginal birth, a water birth offers benefits that you may want to take advantage of during your delivery. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about

As the name suggests, water birthing is giving birth in water. That might be in an inflatable tub in your living room or a huge bathtub at the local birth center.

Water birthing can take place in a few ways. Some women labor and birth in the water, while others decide to labor in the water because it helps reduce the pain then birth somewhere else.

Where Can You Have a Water Birth?

You can have a water birth almost anywhere! Many hospitals offer tubs, and birthing centers are known for providing large, whirlpool tubs. If you’re considering a home birth, all you need to do is great an inflatable pool and set it up in your home. A standard tub can be used as well in your home. 

However, not all hospitals allow water births. So, if that matters for you, make sure you speak to your healthcare provider ahead of time to figure out if it’s an option for you.

The best way to decide which is the right choice for you is to take a tour of the facilities. Be sure to ask about the tubs they have available and any rules about what is and isn’t allowed.

What are The Benefits Of Water Birth?

Over the past decade, water births have exploded in popularity! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognize that submerging in water during labor is beneficial(source), so there is evidence to back up this new craze.

However, the ACOG doesn’t encourage water births after the first stages of labor. They don’t promote birthing in water, but many studies show that water birthing leads to an increase in energy. A few studies show that water births can help to decrease the need for a cesarean section(source).

On the other hand, the American College of Nurse-Midwives takes a different stance, encouraging water birth for mothers who have a healthy, low-risk, full-term pregnancy. Midwives say that women who have water births have higher levels of satisfaction, and no evidence supports that water birthing leads to an increased rate of death or risk to mom or baby.

Other benefits of water birth include:

  • It can be soothing to soak in the warm water.
  • Water has buoyancy that can relieve the mother of body weight, making her feel more comfortable.
  • Buoyancy also helps mothers move freely into new, comfortable positioning.
  • Buoyancy also helps to promote efficient uterine contractions.
  • Soaking in warm water reduces anxiety and lowers blood pressure.
  • The warm water helps to relax the perineum and reduces the need for an episiotomy. The perineum becomes more elastic in water, reducing the severity of tears and needing stitches.
  • Mothers tend to be more relaxed and inclined to behave naturally.

Many women say that water birth reduces the pain of labor, but no evidence supports this claim. Soaking in a tub of warm water can help you feel calmer, relaxing your muscles, and calming your breathing.

What are the The Potential Risks of a Water Birth?

Even though the ACOG doesn’t advocate for a water birth, they do have a set of guidelines for women who want to attempt one.

  • Baby is in the head-down position.
  • The amniotic fluid is clear.
  • It’s a low-risk pregnancy.
  • The mother is between 37 weeks and 41 weeks gestation. Premature labors should not be done in water.
  • You want a drug-free birth.

Also, if the mother has had more than two cesarean sections, even though you have recovered well after c-section, it’s not recommended to have a water birth. Increased c-sections can cause birthing problems and placenta issues, which can cause a complicate your delivery.

If you have any of these conditions, then a water birth isn’t a recommended option for you.

  • Have an active skin infection
  • You have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Under sedation
  • Having a herpes infection because herpes can be transferred easily in water.
  • Have a previous history of shoulder dystocia
  • Experiencing preeclampsia or diabetes
  • Mother is older than 35 or younger than 17.
  • If your baby is breech
  • If you are having multiples, water birth might not be an ideal choice.

Perhaps the biggest concern of all is any issues that a water birth might cause with the baby. Is water birth safe for infants?

For the most part, yes, water birth is perfectly safe, assuming that the baby hasn’t inhaled meconium and is full-term at the time of delivery. The risks aren’t common birth in water, but they exist:

  • Asphyxia and seizures
  • The umbilical cord might tear or be damaged
  • Struggle to regulate baby’s body temperature post-birth.
  • Legionnaire’s disease

Legionnaire’s disease is the most significant risk of all, so everyone needs to take precautions. Legionella bacteria cause this disease. While it is a very rare issue, it can happen, and it also can be fatal. Legionnaire’s disease takes place when the baby aspirates tiny water droplets that contain the Legionella bacteria. Symptoms include a fever, a cough, and pneumonia.

What Precautions Need to Take During a Water Birth​?

Having a water birth is a fantastic way to bring your child into this world, but you do need to take precautions and speak at length with your midwife or doctor.

Take these considerations in mind:

  • The tub is clean, hygienic, and well-maintained.
  • The staff takes measures for infection control.
  • You and your baby will be monitored appropriately throughout your labor and delivery.
  • You have a licensed professional with a backup doctor if needed.
  • The water is kept at the right temperatures.
  • Your staff will give you access to fresh drinking water to prevent dehydration.

Understand that your doctor might decide to ask you to leave the water at some point. Reasons for leaving the water are typically important, such as:

  • Feeling faint or drowsy.
  • Your midwife can't find your baby's heartbeat, or there is an issue with the heart rate.
  • Labor is progressing too slowly.
  • Your blood pressure starts to increase.
  • Meconium is found in the water.
  • You develop a fever or body temperature goes up.

Of course, being asked to leave your plans behind can be frustrating and upsetting. Understand that your healthcare provider has your best interests in mind, and you may be able to get back into the water if things return to the right conditions.

For example, your midwife may ask you to get out of the tub because she is struggling to find the baby’s heart rate. Once she knows everything is fine, she might clear you to get back into the tub.

The Supplies Needed for a Water Birth

If you decide to birth at a hospital or a birthing center, they provide most, if not all, of the supplies that you need for a water birth. If you decide to have a water birth at home, you have to be prepared and gather all of the necessary supplies for a water birth.

The most obvious item you’ll need is a tub of some sort. You can by one or look for rental options in your area. Speak to your midwife; she may have them available for rent or be able to have one delivered to your house.

You also have to decide where you want to put the tub in your house. Think about the weight of the tub when it’s filled with water and how you’ll get it in and out of your home.

Using your bathtub for a home water birth is generally not recommended because it’s hard to be sure that the tub is clean enough. Also, using a bathtub might not be as comfortable as you like, and space could be limited.

Now, you have to gather the other supplies. Most midwives have a list that they can provide you and recommendations on where to purchase these items.

  • A birth pool liner
  • Fishnet to scoop solid materials
  • A garden hose that is long enough to reach wherever you are placing the birthing tub.
  • An adapter to hook the hose to your faucet
  • Espom Salt - 2 to 3 pounds
  • A floating thermometer
  • A tarp to put under the tub
  • Towels
  • Pots for boiling water

What is the Cost of a Water Birth?

The cost of anything is always a factor to consider. Water birth in hospital doesn’t cost any different than a typical vaginal birth. Most hospitals don’t charge you any extra for using the tub.

If you decide to have a home birth, you have to purchase or rent the birthing pool. The price for those vary depending on where you obtain the tub, so speak to your midwife. She will have the best recommendations to help you save a few dollars.

The cost of having a home water birth won’t change. So, a midwife won’t charge you more to have a water birth at home than a normal vagina birth on your bed. Midwives charge a wide range of fees. Some midwives cost as low as $1,500 and as much as $6,000.

Can I Use a Hot Tub or a Whirlpool?

The risk of using a hot tub depends on the temperature of the water. If you have water that is too hot, it can lead to overheating and dehydration, which are risks to the mother. The water temperature needs to stay around 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why it’s best to stick to birthing pools; they’re designed not to become too hot.

How to Get Ready for a Water Birth?

When you’re in labor, your partner or midwife will help prepare your birthing tub. It’s not up to you to take care of this task.

The most important goal is to keep the tub as clean and hygienic as possible. When you deliver at a birthing center or hospital, the staff prepares everything for you. When you deliver at home, the responsibilities fall on you.

Here are the steps to get ready for a home water birth:

1  Clean the birthing pool with a mixture of 10 parts water to one part bleach. Let this mixture sit for 5 minutes and rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of the beach.

2  Put the tarp down on the floor where you pan to put the tub. This tarp will protect your flooring.

3  When you go into labor, your partner can start to fill up the tub. Monitor the temperature to be sure it stays between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

4  You can increase the temperature to 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the second stage of labor.

What Do You Wear During a Water Birth?

You can wear whatever you want to wear! It’s essential that mothers always feel as comfortable as possible, so wear whatever makes you feel good.

Being in a birthing tub feels like a pool, so some women like to wear a bikini top. You might want to wear a sports bra or a shirt. Some women are entirely naked; that’s up to you!

Chances are, your midwife will ask that you are naked on your bottom half. That makes it easier for her to monitor your labor, but you can wear a loose skirt if that feels too uncomfortable for you. Not all women are comfortable with everyone seeing their butt!

The Choice is Yours

Creating your birth plan is up to you, not anyone else. No one can tell you what feels right for you. You might decide to have a water birth and decide in the middle of labor that it doesn’t feel right to you. Other women get into the tub and never leave because it feels so wonderful.  

There are many benefits of water birth, and Water birth is a safe, relaxing way to give birth for women who have a low-risk, full-term pregnancy. Be sure to do your research and speak to your healthcare provider to decide if it’s the right choice for you.

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