What is waterbirth? Imagine your own personal pool, centered in a room filled with soft light, your favorite scent wafting past as you languish in its gentle warmth. The room is hushed with a subtle sense of anticipation. You sigh and settle deeper into the pool. This may not be the scene you picture when visualizing natural childbirth, but it is the reality for many women who are experiencing it.
While waterbirth may appear to be a new trend, it has been practiced for centuries around the globe, from Japan where women labored in the sea to Finland where women delivered in saunas. In the US, it gained more mainstream acknowledgment in the 1980s but its practice in traditional medical settings has been waning in recent years.
Prior to this time in the West, women remained in a tub for short periods of time, such as in the shower or bath as a way to increase their comfort in early labour.
When questions were raised as to its safety, it was regarded with much skepticism with concerns also raised about the ability to monitor the baby's condition while the mother was submersed in the water. However, fetal monitoring is still possible during water births through use of specialized equipment such as a doptone. Many previously-supportive hospitals ceased offering it as an option, which left mothers seeking waterbirth with the choices of birthing centers or having a home birth.
However, the body of research demonstrates no increase in negative outcomes for low-risk mothers. A leading water birth advocate, Dr. Michel Odent, has conducted many research studies to document its safety. After many years of hospital practice, Dr. Odent left mainstream medicine and instead turned to providing homebirth and waterbirth options.
While few hospitals in the US are equipped with tubs or birthing pools, women may be allowed to bring one for their own use. If the hospital does not have a policy against it, a well-researched discussion with your care provider may make this a viable option.
It's important to note that some caregivers are uninformed about the benefits and safety of waterbirth. If you are considering it, be sure that your care provider's decision for or against water birth is based on facts, not feelings. Once presented with the true benefits and safety of giving birth in water, you may find that your caregiver is more than willing to "go for it". Your birth may even convert them to waterbirth believers!
Page Last Modified by Catherine Beier, MS, CBE
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