Now that you are pregnant, it’s time for you and your partner to think about the preferences and choices you may have during birth. When making these important decisions, there are a number of factors to consider. One of the most meaningful questions to ask yourself is if you want pain medication. Mothers choosing to deliver without pain medication understand that doing so does not mean delivering without pain management. There are a number of methods that can be used to cope with the pain of labor. For certain women, one of them is water birth.
Women have taken comfort in water to help ease the pain and exhaustion of labor for centuries. In the water, the laboring woman may find it easier to relax and change positions. In the water, she may feel weightless, helping her move into the perfect position for birth and providing rest between contractions. Why is this important? Because during labor you will find a position that is comfortable at one moment, but it can be painful in the next. This simple act of changing positions can both soothe the mother and facilitate the descent of her baby.
Now, you may be thinking: ‘Water sounds amazing to use during labor, but is it safe to deliver in the tub?’ Yes, it can be! Research from multiple studies has found that giving birth in water is both safe and beneficial to certain mothers and babies. The prolonged stay in warm water combined with the absence of gravity on the mother’s perineum make the tissues more supple. This may have the effect of reducing the risk of pelvic floor tearing or trauma.
Another common question from expecting mothers is: ‘Can my baby drown?’ The answer is no. It’s important to note, that in a water birth attended by certified nurse midwives, infants aren’t kept under water after birth and are slowly brought to the surface by the mother or midwife. Many natural reflexes prevent baby from breathing under water. The four main reasons newborns do not take their first breath under water are:
- A mild lack of oxygen called hypoxia delays breathing.
- Fetal lungs are already filled with fluid.
- Infants have a dive reflex, holding their breath when submerged in water.
- The hormone prostaglandin E2 restricts the baby’s ability to breathe immediately after birth.
While water can be beneficial for almost every laboring mother, some women can be excluded from delivering in the water under specific circumstances.
To deliver in water a woman must:
- Be at least 37 weeks gestation
- Have a head-down baby
- Have no medical risks, such as excessive vaginal bleeding, maternal fever, non-reassuring fetal heart rate, preeclampsia or thick meconium fluid (baby’s first bowel movement)
- Women with more than one baby in utero are also exempt from a water birth.
Don’t worry. You can rest assured that your provider will have a full list of exclusions for you to review before consenting to a water birth.
If a water birth is not right for you, many birth centers have whirlpool tubs that can help during stages of delivery up to time of birth.
No matter how you decide to deliver your precious new baby into this world, the most important thing to keep in mind when considering your birth preferences is that it is your birth. Clearly communicate what your preferences are for what you think will feel best during labor. Be confident and be active at your appointments. Ask about possible options, research safe methods for you and your baby, and consider the best, safest alternatives talked about with your provider.