Giving birth in water might seem like a strange idea to some women. However, the practice of water births is gaining in popularity. More and more, women are asking for hospitals to provide a birthing pool or are providing their own when they decide to give birth at home.
Why A Water Birth?
Why are women turning towards this alternative birth option? Because a water birth can provide a lot of benefits to women when they are in labor or giving birth. Water births aren’t a very new idea. In fact, the first recorded water birth was in 1803 (although this wasn’t an intentional water birth). In the 1960’s, more experiments were tried with water births. Sometimes they were so successful, the women didn’t want to get out of the pool! Nowadays, having a water birth is becoming increasingly common with many women.
During your pregnancy you have probably indulged in a warm bath or two to help ease your backaches and sore muscles. Likewise, being immersed in warm water during your labor can help to relax your muscles, thereby reducing the amount of pain you feel. It will also aid in the flow of your blood and slow down your pulse, helping you achieve a state of relaxation.
Plus, the amount of water in the pool gives you some buoyancy, offers support to your back and takes off some of the pressure from your stomach. Some women have found that they became so relaxed in their birth pool, and that their dilation happened so quickly, their baby just slipped out! But minimizing pain during childbirth isn’t the only benefit a water birth has to offer.
Birthing pools are made especially for the purpose of giving birth in. Therefore, they are made big enough for at least two people to fit in. This means that your partner can climb in with you and be more supportive to you as well as be more involved in the process of giving birth.
Additionally, many people feel that giving birth in water is more pleasant for the baby. This is because the water simulates the atmosphere inside your womb. And don’t worry that your baby can’t breath under water. It is not until your baby is actually brought to the surface that she or he will take its first breath.
However, your baby can’t stay underwater for hours, either; within 10 seconds or so, most babies are brought to the surface. But giving birth in water means that you can make your baby’s introduction to air gentler, which many believe is less traumatic for the baby.
Water Births at the Hospital
If you have decided to have your baby in a hospital or birthing center, ask if they have a birthing pool. In England, a water birth has become so common, it is considered an option for childbirth and not an alternative. Most English hospitals are now equipped to accommodate the request.
In North America, attitudes are not quite so forward thinking, but an increasing number of hospitals are recognizing the growing demand by women to give birth in water. Some hospitals do have birthing pools or, at the very least, Jacuzzis and hot tubs that are designed for elderly or disabled people but can easily be used by pregnant women. However, be aware that in many hospitals, while it is fine to remain in water during labor, actually giving birth in water is discouraged. If the hospital you plan to attend does not have a birthing pool, they may still have the facilities available for you to bring in your own pool. Discuss with your doctor or midwife about what your options are for having a water birth in a hospital.
Water Births at Home
If you have decided that you would rather have an at home birth, there are birthing pools that you can rent. Some may even be see-through, allowing those near you to get a better view without having to crowd around. It is recommended that you rent the pool for a period of four weeks, since it is common to deliver during the two weeks before or after your due date.
Using a Kiddie Pool
Some women consider buying a large kiddie pool or using their tub instead of renting a birthing pool. While these may be cheaper options, it is not necessarily more practical. Kiddie pools and tubs tend to be smaller than birthing pools, which means that you will have less space to move around in. It will also inhibit your partner from being able to join you.
Plus, since the pools and tub cannot be filled as high as a birthing pool, you have less buoyancy and therefore may not experience as much pain relief. You need to be immersed in at least 20-inches of water to be properly supported. A birthing pool also allows your birth attendant to have better visibility and gives them better access to you.
Regardless of where you give birth, if you are having a water birth, remember to do what feels right for you. You do not have to stay in water for all of your labor stages and the delivery. If you prefer to be in there for just the delivery, then do that. Maybe the water feels good during the first two stages of labor, but by the third stage you may want to be able to walk around.
Feel free to get out of the water when you want and have an alternative space available in case you decide you want to give birth out of water. If you do give birth in water, be sure to have lots of towels on hand for both you and your new baby to keep you both warm.
They Are Not For Everyone
Having a water birth is not an option for everyone. If you have high blood pressure, are having twins or a breech birth or experience a ruptured membrane when you go into labor, having a water birth may not be the best idea.
However, you might still be able to benefit from water therapy by standing under a hot shower with a strong jet of water directed at your back. Also, be sure to talk with your midwife or doctor early on if you do intend to have a water birth. Not all doctors or midwives have experience with giving birth in water or feel comfortable with the idea. Also, the hospital that they are associated with may not have the facilities available for a water birth. It is best to learn these details early on so that you can create a different birth plan, find a different hospital, or even switch health care providers.
Water Births Are Gaining Popularity
Having a water birth can make labor and birth a much more enjoyable process. And you’re in good company if you choose this option! Lucy Lawless, Pamela Anderson and Ricki Lake all opted for water births. Gwyneth Paltrow was also rumored to have originally chosen a home water birth before deciding to give birth near her home in England at a hospital that was equipped for water births.
Giving birth in water is a safe, healthy choice for women who want to minimize their pain during labor and maximize their experience of birth.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD