Is Waterbirth Safe? What are the benefits and risks for mothers and babies?

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How To Have An Easy and Relaxed Labor

As labor doulas, we have seen the beneficial effect of hydrotherapy use during labor and while giving birth in a tub. We often suggest to clients that they take a long, warm bath in early labor to slow down contractions and relax the uterus enough so that sleep becomes possible. Once a strong pattern of contractions has been established, typically, a bath will not slow labor but allow for complete relaxation of the muscles between contractions.

The warmth and buoyancy of the water provides a measure of comfort throughout labor and birth. Slowly pouring water down the back or tummy is also helpful. Hydrotherapy and underwater birth is safe and reduces the need for pain medications while lowering your risk of a c-section due to the ability to move into and maintain open-pelvic positions for easier rotation and descent of the baby.

A 2012 Cochrane review found no harm to the baby in 12 randomized controlled trials of water labor or birth involving 3,243 women, and less use of epidural anesthesia.

The evidence shows that babies born in the water have similar health outcomes compared to babies born on land. The bottom line is that waterbirth is a reasonable option for low-risk birthing people.

An excerpt by Dr. Rebecca Dekker of Evidence Based Birth from her article titled Water Immersion During Labor for Pain Relief:

"The bottom line is that researchers have found that water immersion during labor poses no extra risks to the baby. They’ve overwhelmingly found that it lowers the need for pain medications and it makes people feel more satisfied with their pain relief. Hydrotherapy’s effectiveness on pain appears to be less effective than an epidural or spinal, but more effective than using IV opioid drugs. The good thing about water immersion during labor is that there doesn’t seem to be any side effects. Also, evidence shows that water immersion during labor increases people’s satisfaction with their childbirth and their sense of privacy and comfort. Mothers who labor and give birth in water tend to remember their experiences as being more positive and less painful." Read full article here.

We encourage you to explore for yourself all that underwater birth can offer you. Seek out medical facilities and care providers offering inflatable tubs or birth pools for labor and delivery (not just water "labor" or immersion). For further reading on water birth, checkout NPR's Shots article from March 2014.