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Is Water Birth Safe?

Chelsea Gonzales


Water. It’s essential to life, fun to play in, and even has pain relieving effects, especially to women in labor.

Because of the latter fact, many women choose to birth their babies in the water. Not only does this help relax the laboring woman, it also helps ease the newborn into the world gently. However, many people question the safety of giving birth in water.

In today’s post, we will address the most common questions and concerns about water birth and help you decide whether or not this type of birthing experience is a good fit for you.

What are the benefits of a water birth?

Let’s begin by discussing the many reasons a new mama might choose water birth for her baby and herself. While every woman has her own reasons for making such a decision, there are a few key reasons that tend to play into the decision of most mothers.

These include:

Buoyancy — The buoyancy provided by the water does a few things to benefit a laboring woman. To begin with, the feeling of weightlessness allows the mother to move freely and reposition herself however she sees fit.

Additionally, the buoyancy provided by a tub of water promotes good blood circulation, something that gives mom more energy, reduces pain by providing the uterine muscles with plenty of oxygen, and helps baby by sending more oxygen their direction.

Comfort — Obviously, the ability to find a comfortable position in the water is one major way a water birth can help a woman feel more comfortable. However, this isn’t the only reason water is soothing.

The weightlessness offered by water often allows laboring women to relax. This in turn allows the body to do its work efficiently, and—because she is relaxed—with less pain to the mama. Meanwhile, the warm water is often soothing to weary moms and can work with the weightlessness to help them feel more comfortable.

Finally, the water helps the perineum to become more elastic. This, in addition to the relaxation of the entire body, reduces the likelihood of episiotomy and tears that would require stitches, something that greatly improves her postpartum comfort levels.

 Reduced Stress — Birthing a baby requires great focus, and when a person has trouble relaxing due to stress, focusing on bringing her little one into the world becomes very difficult. Water can help the mama let go of her stresses and relax her mind in addition to her body in order to allow her to focus solely on the task at hand without other worries and thoughts interrupting her work.

The stress is also reduced for baby, who is born into a world very similar to the amniotic sac he or she is accustomed to. The baby can then be lifted gently into the mother’s arms. This gentle way of bringing a baby into the world promotes good bonding and a good sense of security.

Is there an increased risk of infection?

Some people believe that giving birth in a tub increases the risk of infection for both mother and child. While this concern is certainly an understandable one, it is also unfounded. There have not been many studies on this topic specifically, but the few that have been completed showed us that the infection rates were equal between water birth and land birth babies, or in other cases, that infection rates were slightly lower amongst the little ones born in water.

Should I be concerned about drowning?

In short, no, you should not be concerned about your newborn drowning. This is thanks to the “dive reflex” which blocks the baby’s airways and doesn't allow them to breathe while submerged in the water. There are a very small number of things that can override this reflex, but your care provider is well aware of these situations and well trained to handle them.

Will baby overheat?

This is a legitimate concern. However, there is no reason you can’t ensure that the water temperature is right for baby and ease your worry entirely. Simply place a thermometer in the tub and ensure the water stays under 98 degrees (F) at all times. This will ensure the water is warm enough to be comforting to mama without overheating her or her little one.

Who should not have a water birth?

I think waterbirth is a wonderful thing. That said, there are a few women who might want to avoid water birth due to medical concerns. These include women with herpes, those with maternal infection, and mamas who will be giving birth before 38 weeks. This is not an exhaustive list, and in some cases, these women may be eligible for a water birth. Therefore, it is important that you discuss these things in depth with your care provider in order to decide what’s best for you and your baby.

I hope this article helps you decide what kind of birth you would like to experience. After all, the birth of a baby is a life-changing event, and one you will want to look fondly on for the rest of your life.