Water birth, or waterbirth, is the process of laboring in water. Women who choose this method of birth may labor and deliver their babies in water, or they may labor in the tub of warm water and get out for delivery. Some midwives simply set up a pool of warm water for the laboring mother to use as she feels the need.
Water birth is usually associated with home birth, but some birth centers have facilities for women to labor and/or give birth in water.
For many women, warm water is very soothing during labor. The water holds up her body weight, which can be a welcome relief. The theory behind water extends to the baby, too – the warm water that the baby is born into is similar to the uterine environment. This may make the birth process easier on the baby, too.
How Does Water Birth Work?
When a woman decides to give birth in the water, she will be evaluated by a doctor and/or midwife to ensure that she is not a high-risk candidate. Women with pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, and/or some other complications are not advised to give birth in the water.
When the woman is in labor, the birth pool is prepared. It can be an inflatable tub that looks like a child’s swimming pool (some midwives use a child’s swimming pool with a waterbed heating coil underneath!), or it may look more like a hot tub. Regardless of the style of pool or tub, the water needs to be kept warm (birth pools have internal heating elements) and the pool should be easy for the laboring woman to enter and exit.
Sometimes, the warm water feels a bit too good, effectively slowing down the labor. If this happens, the midwives or midwife will gently coax the laboring woman out of the water for a while until contractions are strong again.
The laboring woman who chooses to give birth in the water will enter during the last stages of labor, even if she was in and out of the water before. Then she will deliver the baby under the water, and the birth attendants or the mother will “catch” the baby and lay him or her on the mother’s tummy or in her arms.
What Are the Advantages?
Water births are said to be more comfortable and less stressful for mother and baby. The warm water softens tissues, helping to prevent tearing and subsequent stitches, and there tends to be a sense of privacy about being immersed in water. This may help a woman feel safe and secure, increasing her chances of a successful, satisfying delivery.