What is Waterbirth?

What is Waterbirth?

What is Waterbirth? What are the benefits and hazards of giving birth in water?.

Waterbirth is a method of giving birth, which involves immersion in warm water. There are special tubs or birthing pools containing warm water ,in which the woman in labour sits or lies down in any position which is comfortable.She also delivers the baby in the water aided by the midwife or medical attendant.
Proponents believe that this method is safe and provides many benefits for both mother and baby, including pain relief and a less traumatic birth experience for the baby.

However, critics argue that the procedure introduces unnecessary risks to the infant ,such as,infection and water inhalation.

The possible benefits of waterbirth are:

For the baby:

  • Childbirth can be a strenuous experience for the baby. Properly heated water helps to ease the transition from the birth canal to the outside world because the warm liquid resembles the familiar intra uterine environment, and softens light, colors and noises.

For the mother:

  • Relaxation. The relaxing effect of the warm water helps co ordinate contractions so that they are less stressful.
  • Shorter labour. The buoyancy of the water helps weightlessness and relaxes the muscles. There is no waste of energy in tension,and the dilatation of the cervix occurs faster in a relaxed woman and labour is shorter.
  • Pain Relief. Studies have shown that there is a statistically significant reduction in the mothers perception of pain during water immersion in labour and delivery.
  • Decreased episiotomy/ intact perineum. Support from the water slows the crowning of the infants head and offers perineal support, which decreases the risk of tearing and reduces the need for episiotomies..{the cut which is given to widen the birth outlet during delivery}.

Risks and concerns of waterbirth:

For baby:

  • Infection. There may be risk of infection from the birthing pool itself, the inlet or outlet pipes. Or if the mother passes stool or urine in the pool while delivering, which happens often.
  • Water Inhalation. There is a potential risk that the baby may start to breathe under water and drown.
  • Snapping of the umbilical cord. Studies have shown that this happens more frequently in waterbirth and the birth attendant has to be very vigilant.

For Mother:

  • Slowed labour. Due to the relaxing effect of the water the contractions may be slowed down, especially when the mother enters the pool very early in labour. Many hospitals insist that entering the pool should only be after 5 cms dilatation.
  • Greater risk of tearing. The mother is at greater risk of tearing of the perineum due to uncontrolled delivery of the head under water.
  • Lack of foetal monitoring. It would be potentially more difficult to monitor the baby’s heartbeat during labour and delivery.
  • Emergency situations. Difficult to shift the patient out of the pool in emergency situations like profuse bleeding or foetal distress etc.
  • Blood loss during delivery of the placenta cannot be monitored satisfactorily.

Waterbirth is definitely not allowed in high risk pregnancies like mothers with high blood pressure, diabetes, previous caesarian section, twins and breech babies.

Water birth is accepted and practiced in many parts of the United States, Canada, Australia and many European countries,where birthing centers and hospitals offer water birth services.Given our Indian culture,one wonders how many women would be comfortable being undressed or semi dressed in a pool, alone or with her husband during labour and delivery?