A study published in 2021 concluded that water births are safer than land births and are associated with better outcomes, including decreased rates of postpartum hemorrhage and hospitalization after delivery and no increase in neonatal death. But that doesn’t mean that it is 100% risk-free. Water birth is not for you if you suffer from preeclampsia or carry multiple babies. Water births also have potential severe complications for your baby ranging from meconium aspiration to infections and drowning.
Considering that your baby has spent nine months floating in your womb with warm amniotic fluids, a water birth seems like a gentle natural welcome to the world for you and your baby.
But it’s essential to know when it is safe to be in the water during labor and when it isn’t so you can make the best decision for yourself and your little one.
To clear common misconceptions, here’s everything parents-to-be need to know about giving birth in the water.
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Water birth precautions to look out for
Having a water birth means you should ask questions about how the labor and delivery are done.
If the birthing water service is not offered in a hospital near you, you may have to go to a birthing center.
You could also do it at home under your midwife’s supervision with a physician’s backup.
Things to look out for include:
- The presence of experienced, licensed healthcare professionals to help you through the labor and delivery.
- Proper infection control measures are in place.
- High standards of cleanliness are kept to ensure the surroundings and the birthing tub are well maintained.
- You and your baby will be monitored appropriately as required while in the tub.
- There’s a plan to get you out of the water as soon as the healthcare professional says it’s time.
- The water temperature is well-regulated, usually between 97-100°F(36.1-37.8°C).
- Drinking water is available during delivery to avoid dehydration.
Benefits of water birthing
The benefits of water birth are mainly for the birth parents’ experience.
During the advancing stages of labor, when the cervix dilates, and contractions pick up in frequency and intensity, immersion in a birthing tub may help in several ways.
- Decrease the intensity of the pain and may reduce the desire for anesthesia.
- Less risk of vaginal tearing.
- It may decrease or shorten the duration of labor because of relaxation.
- Higher reported patient satisfaction. It also gives you a sense of control.
Water birth risks and complications
Water births are not significantly dangerous, but when they occur at home, as most of them do, there’s an increased risk.
Here are some of the rare but essential risks to know that could happen while having a waterbirth:
Water birth means sitting, pushing, and delivering in the tub, often including feces. You or your baby could get an infection.
There’s no way of making the water contaminant free from the rectal and vaginal flora.
2. Umbilical cord tears
The umbilical cord could snap before your baby comes out of the water.
A snapped umbilical cord can be life-threatening as the fetus can bleed until it is stopped by clamping the cord. The bleeding could lead to neonatal anemia.
Although no significant studies have shown the exact percentage of pneumonia cases in water births, it is one of the risks.
Pneumonia usually develops within the first 24-48 hours of birth. It is caused by fecal contamination, bacteria from the birthing tub, or meconium aspiration.
4. Meconium aspiration
Meconium aspiration means that your baby has had its first bowel movement before birth and breathes in the contaminated amniotic fluid, which causes respiratory problems.
Clearing a baby’s airway with a water birth may be challenging when the first bowel movement occurs before delivery.
5. Seizures and drowning
Your baby could develop an undetected seizure or not be able to breathe underwater. And where there is water, there’s always a risk of drowning.
Drowning, near drowning, and asphyxiation are all possible risks of a water birth complication, according to a 2004 study.
Are you a suitable water birth candidate?
A pregnant woman will most likely have to meet conditions to qualify for a water birth.
For instance, an uncomplicated pregnancy with normal blood pressure and the baby’s head facing down at over 37 weeks gestation qualifies for a water birth.
High-risk conditions and labor complications always necessitate continuous fetal monitoring and possible immediate interventions leading to circumstances where someone should not choose water birth.
Women with Group B Strep positive cultures, intrauterine growth restrictions, or unproven pelvis are some factors that may keep you out of the running for a water birth contest.
You are also advised not to try water birthing if:
- You’re younger than 17 or older than 35 years old
- You have health complications like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes
- The baby is in the breech position, and the head won’t face down
- You’re carrying multiple babies
- The baby is premature
- The baby is a very big one
- You have an infection
- You need to be constantly monitored.
How much does a water birth cost?
Water birth costs vary depending on whether your hospital or birthing center offers it. You may or may not be charged a fee for using their birthing pool.
On the other hand, buying your pool kit can cost you $250 or less. You can also rent a birthing pool through your midwife, and the charges will depend on her.
If you decide to get your water birth equipment, inform your insurance company about your plan as soon as possible since it may cover the cost.
Because of the risks to the baby during the final stages of labor and delivery, ACOG doesn’t recommend laboring in water, and moms should push and deliver on dry land.
The ACOG does recognize some benefits of birthing in water, but they don’t recommend laboring in water beyond the first stage of labor.
If you’d like to learn more about pregnancy and delivery, you may want to check out these posts
- Will A Warm Bath Help Soften My Cervix? (Cervical Ripening & Labor Induction)
- Will A Hot Bath Induce Labor At 38 Weeks?
- Prepare And Get Ready: When To Discuss Birth Plan With Your Doctor?