Probably no other development in birth has had greater impact on natural childbirth in recent years as the acceptance of Water Birth as an effective method of pain relief during labor.
Originating in the home birth movement, water births are now a standard feature in most birth centers and are even utilized in a number of hospitals throughout the U.S.
Although birth centers and hospitals may have permanent birth tub installations, many home births take advantage of new, inflatable tubs that can be set up in a spacious bedroom, living room, or wherever is appropriate.
Setting up the birth tub
The attending midwife will have an inflatable tub as part of her delivery kit. A disposable liner is purchased, and is used only once, for each new mother, insuring cleanliness and any possible cross contamination.
Hoses are used to fill the tub and to drain it as well. Because the water draining from the tub will have all of the bodily fluids from the birth process, each mother is instructed to supply her own set of new hoses.
The water temperature of the tub is set at just above human body temperature, so there is an overall feeling of warmth, but not hot.
The buoyancy of the water helps to relieve pressure and support the mother’s weight. The water soothes and relaxes, and promotes a sense of well-being. The effect on mothers in labor is remarkable!
Because the baby is born receiving oxygen from the cord and placenta at the time of birth, the baby can actually be delivered under water and then brought to the surface for its first breath.
The mother has greater freedom of movement than she would on a bed, and is often able to participate in the delivery, grasping the baby as it exits the womb, moving it directly to her bosom on her own.
At the same time, some mothers may use the tub during a portion of their labor, and then step out of the tub, continue her labor, and then deliver in a bed or on a birth stool.
For some, a change of position or additional movement out of the tub may be needed to help stimulate the progress of labor. Later, these same mothers will herald the benefits of water birth and the relief it provided during labor. There are no fixed rules! Every mother must find own way.
Can anyone else get in the birth tub?
If the woman desires, her partner can join her in the tub, usually sitting behind her, so that she can lean back and be supported. They as a family share body flora and studies have demonstrated there is little to no risk of infection. Still, everyone is instructed to shower before entering the water.
During a home birth at times the mother may have other children present, and they may express a desire to join her in the water. Generally speaking, the midwife or parents may discourage this, but again because they are family it may be permitted as well.
“In my experience, the children stay in the water for just a few minutes, get bored, and are ready to get out. It is often nicer to simply let them get in for a little bit rather than always saying no,” explained Deborah Flowers, a midwife at the Farm Midwifery Center.
The midwife and birth attendants will do their work from outside the tub. Special, full arm length, rubber gloves are worn during the delivery. A Doppler fetus-cope with a waterproof transducer allows the midwife to monitor the baby’s heartbeat as needed throughout the birth.
Is a water birth right for you?
You can find a plethora of water birth videos on YouTube, including numerous ones produced as music videos.
Listen to the Awakening Birth Podcast to hear Certified Professional Midwives Robin Lim and Deborah Flowers discuss their use and the benefits of water birth.