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Water Birth and the use of water in Labour

Updated on August 30, 2012

Using Water as a Natural pain reliever in Labour can benefit many women as well as having a calmer experience having your baby in water is also becoming increasingly more popular. Waterbirth is a favourable option at home with the facility to buy a birthing pool or even hire one. Many hospital units and birthing centres are now engaging in pool deliveries more often and investing in more pools and equipment because of the high demand for them.

Benefits of Water Birth

There are many benefits to using water in labour and birth.

  • Many women find that the water supports the bodyweight and it reduces the incidence of a sudden drop in low blood pressure. A woman laying on her back in labour can compresses the main blood vessels therefore cutting off some of the oxygen to the placenta...the buoyancy of the water lifts the baby away from this compression.
  • The pool is a naturally warm environment and therefore reduces stress for women in labour and allows the body to conserve energy.
  • It is also well documented that it can also slow the release of adrenaline which is a hormone produced in high stress situations, and increase the production of endorphins - which is the body's natural painkiller.
  • Relaxation in the water can also increase the production of Oxytocin which is the hormone that stimulates contractions.
  • Using the pool can also increase your chance of a normal delivery as the water provides the optimum position of your baby.
  • It also reduces the need for other pain relieving drugs in labour and lowers the risk of having other interventions such as a ventouse or forceps delivery.

Women using water in labour can particularly benefit from it in the early stages of labour but research has also shown that if you use the pool from 5cm dilated onwards then your labour would be overall shorter.

Is Water Birth Safe?

Yes it is! There has been research to suggest the outcome of the health of a baby is no different to a baby born on dry land in low risk pregnancies. When a baby is born in water it is born into an environment similar to its own and with no exposure to the air - hence the baby will not take its first breath under water,

A Baby will start breathing only if one of the following happens:

  • There is Exposure to the air
  • Cord Stimulation such as clamping/cutting or even touching the cord which interrupts the flow of oxygen from the placenta.
  • At the same time your baby takes its first breath then various valves in the heart close off and the lungs expand for the first time.
  • Your baby lives in water for nine months and therefore a delivery underwater will not stimulate breathing until baby is brought to the surface of the water.

When you deliver your baby under water then the midwife will take a hands off approach and just observe whilst you push you baby's head out, when the shoulders and the rest of the body is fully delivered then the midwife will gently guide your baby to the surface of the water where it would take its first breath.

The reason for the midwife's hands off approach is to not stimulate the baby to take its first breath underwater, the midwife will also need to use her skill in not touching the cord so it is not stimulated for baby to breathe before coming to the surface of the water.

What happens after the baby is born in water?

The baby will remain with the mother with the shoulders still submerged under the water to keep it warm and the midwife will await the placenta to be delivered, which is also known as the third stage of labour.

The 3rd Stage of Labour can be managed in two ways:

  • Physiological 3rd stage of labour - for any uncomplicated low risk birth the cord is left unclamped until the placenta is delivered by the mother in the pool as long as there is no excessive bleeding.
  • Active 3rd Stage of Labour - The woman would need to get out of the pool after the cord has been clamped and cut, the injection to help remove the placenta would be given out of the pool. The midwife would then continue active management of the 3rd stage of labour out of the pool - the midwife will assist the woman by actively pulling on the cord to help deliver the placenta.


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