We recently attended a Waterbirth Education and Certification Course taught by Barbara Harper, RN, Midwife, author and educator. We are happy to share some of the highlights and things we learned.
Many birth locations now offer the use of warm water immersion in birth tubs as a comfort measure during labor, and some locations support women who wish to give birth in these tubs. This is also a common practice at freestanding birth centers and homebirth.
What are the reasons that women are choosing to labor and birth in a pool of warm water?
Some of the benefits include:
Greater comfort and mobility
Access to any position that is comfortable
Reduces pressure on abdomen
Helps mother conserve energy
Promotes deeper relaxation
Lowers Blood Pressure
Facilitates second stage of labor (pushing)
Decreases perineal trauma
Many women state after laboring in a tub they will never consider doing it any other way. The effect of the buoyancy reduces stress and promotes relaxation. When a mother is relaxed physically she can also relax mentally. In this relaxed state her body is less likely to secrete stress-related-hormones and this allows for the pain-inhibiting endorphins to go to work helping her have a more satisfactory experience.
And the good news is that if you don’t like being the tub, you can easily get out and continue laboring on land.
If babies are born into the water what keeps them safe?
There are physiologic breathing inhibitors that prevent the baby from taking a breath while in the water. She begins to transition from fetus to newborn only after her face hits the room air and gravity at which point the process of taking her first breath is stimulated. To learn more about this see this article: Birth, Bath, and Beyond: The Science and Safety of Water Immersion During Labor and Birth by Barbara Harper.
When is the right time to get in the water?
Any time the mother would like to use the labor pool she should do so. There is no research that indicates getting in the water too soon will slow down labor. Many women choose to alternate between using the tub and being on land in various positions to manage their labor.
What about cleanliness and hygiene in the water?
If the water has become compromised and is no longer sanitary the mother should exit the tub. When it doubt, get out. It’s important to use clean water and not leave the tub standing for longer than 24 hours without fresh water.
Talk to your provider to find out if they support laboring or birthing in a birth tub.
On a personal note: I have tried labor both ways. With my first baby I did not use a birth tub. With my 2nd baby I labored and gave birth in a tub and it made a world of difference in my comfort and how I managed the pain. Did you choose to labor or give birth in water? How did it affect your experience?