Water births are gaining popularity as a more peaceful and natural way to give birth. Women sit in a tub or inflatable pool filled with warm water during labor. Some women stay immersed throughout labor and delivery, while others choose to labor in water and then give birth on a dry surface.

Most water births in the United States take place with the assistance of a midwife at home or at a birthing center.

Water is Relaxing for the Mother

Some women choose water births to create a relaxing atmosphere. Immersion in warm water can help induce feelings of calm during labor. Many proponents claim that the baby endures less trauma because they leave the warm, fluid-filled womb and enter a warm water bath instead of transitioning straight to open air.

This claim isn't supported by medical research, but studies show that safety and health outcomes are fairly equal for water births and traditional births.

pregnant woman in labor between contractions during water birth Byba Sepit / Getty Images


The Location Increases Privacy

A water birth, especially if it takes place at home, offers more privacy than traditional maternity settings. The only people involved may be the midwife and any friends or family invited by the mother. Some women feel less exposed while they're submerged in water.

A mother's interaction with the midwife starts long before the birth itself, so they develop a one-on-one relationship instead of the ever-changing interactions with many people that would take place on traditional maternity wards.

Expecting couple in bathtub for water birth Thinkstock / Getty Images


Water Provides Support and Comfort

Water provides buoyancy that helps support body weight. This extra support lets the mother move around easily without tiring so she can stay comfortable and conserve energy for the last stage of labor.

Changing position frequently helps labor progress by working with gravity and gives the mother a sense of control.

Doctor and nurse helping a pregnant girl in a Water birth Antonio Marquez lanza / Getty Images


Water Births Can Offer Pain Relief

Many women choose water births to help manage pain and reduce the need for an epidural or other analgesics. Warm water can help relieve muscle tension and help labor progress smoothly.

Research shows that women frequently report less pain during water births than those that occur in hospital beds. They also report less anxiety. Stress and anxiety can cause tension and worsen pain. This can turn into a cycle that may prolong labor and leave the mother exhausted before the baby is born. Warm water can help relieve muscle tension and help labor progress smoothly.

Midwife holding the hands of a pregnant woman who is in a birthing pool. Science Photo Library - IAN HOOTON / Getty Images


Reduces the Likelihood of an Episiotomy

Studies show that women having water births are less likely to need episiotomies. An episiotomy is a surgical cut in the perineum, which is the tissue around the vaginal opening.

Though much less common these days, medical professionals may perform episiotomies to enlarge the vaginal opening for an easier delivery or to prevent unintended ruptures. The surgical cut may become infected or take a long time to heal. Warm water and relaxation during a water birth may help the perineum stretch without tearing during delivery.

Pregnant woman sitting in water pool in hospital between labour cramps


The Importance of the Right Temperature

Water births take place in warm water, but the temperature shouldn't be too hot or too cold. Sometimes women don't realize they're not drinking enough fluids while they're immersed in water,, and hot water increases the risk of dehydration. The other people present during the birth should ensure a bottle of water is within arm's reach, and encourage her to take a drink every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid dehydration.

Cool water probably isn't a health risk for mothers, but the water should be very warm during the birth itself. Newborn babies aren't able to control their body temperatures very well, so they're susceptible to hypothermia.

Pregnant Woman inside of a birthing pool KidStock / Getty Images


Water Might Interrupt the Labor

Although warm water and relaxation are usually beneficial and help labor progress, they can also inhibit contractions in some cases. This is more likely if the mother gets into the water too early.

Some medical professionals advise women to wait until the cervix is at least four centimeters dilated before entering the tub. If labor slows down or stops altogether, the mother can get out of the water and walk around for a while until contractions start again.

Young pregnant woman giving birth in water.


Concerns About Clean Water

Blood, amniotic fluid, and other liquids and solids are released into the water during labor and delivery. Bacteria and other pathogens may enter the water as well, but the risk of infection is very low. Water doesn't travel up through the birth canal, and the baby is only in the water for a very short time.

However, some women feel very uncomfortable if the water isn't clean. Waterbirth facilities in hospitals and birthing centers are designed to change the water frequently. Women planning on home births should make arrangements for changing the water ahead of time.

Woman washing face in birthing pool Frank Herholdt / Getty Images


Concerns About the Baby Inhaling Water

Many parents, understandably, worry about the baby inhaling water. Although this is a possibility, a trained midwife knows how to minimize this risk. Babies are born with a dive reflex that temporarily closes the airway so they don't inhale underwater. They continue getting oxygen through the umbilical cord until the dive reflex is disturbed by reaching the surface.

A midwife guides delivery so the baby's head doesn't reach the surface until the entire body is born.

Newborn baby boy in birthing pool Frank Herholdt / Getty Images


Potential Complications

Complications during water births don't happen often because they're generally advised against if a woman has a higher-risk pregnancy, but it's very important to have a plan for emergencies.

Any midwife trained in home births probably has a protocol to stabilize mother and baby and get them to a hospital as soon as possible. It's a good idea to make sure everyone invited to the birth is aware of the plan and knows it well enough to function in an emergency.

Mother Holding Newborn in Birthing Tub After Home Water Birth ideabug / Getty Images


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