By Calmbirth Educator, Lisa Lake
Today, pregnant couples all over Australia are lucky enough to have many choices about how and where they can birth their baby. Some want to birth their baby in the birthing suite of a maternity hospital, others want to be surrounded by their family and choose a homebirth, while for some a water birth seems the best option.
Did you know that there are many benefits of having a water birth?
Childbirth is a normal physiological process and many women feel labouring and birthing in water gives them the opportunity to experience a greater sense of satisfaction when it comes to their birth experience. Immersion in water allows a labouring woman to follow her natural birthing instinct by providing privacy and pain relief, assisting her to manage the intensity of her contractions.
Women often choose to have a water birth to help manage the sensations of labour and often describe the experience as pleasurable or fulfilling. Words such as relaxation, relief, calming, floating, comforting and warm are often used by many women when they describe their experiences. Over 80% of women are in favour of having subsequent water births as they felt their previous birth experience was more natural, less painful and prefer a gentle birth for their baby.
Not all women birth their babies in the water, instead many choose to labour in the water enjoying the benefits of relaxation, buoyancy, comfort and pain relief. Women find they are able to use the support of the water to help maintain an upright position, finding it easier to relax, decreasing the duration of the first stage of labour which is supported by several studies (Zanetti-Daellenbach et al. 2007; Chaichian et al. 2009; Torkamani et al. 2010)
A Cochrane Review (2009) found water immersion during the first stage of labour reduced the use of epidurals while decreasing the duration of the first stage of labour without any increased adverse effects for mother and baby.
Water birth offers many benefits during the second stage of labour, when a woman is working hard to bring her baby into the world. The buoyancy of the water assists the woman to feel lighter and reduces the feelings of pressure. It also eases movement which can help facilitate a woman to find the most comfortable position to birth her baby.
Several studies suggest there is a reduction in the use of pharmacological pain relief and likelihood of perineal trauma is lower in women who birth their babies in the water (Burke 1995; Burns 2001; Garland 2000; Geissbuehler 2000; Otigbah 2000). Women also report they feel more in control during their childbirth experiences as well as having an increased maternal satisfaction, leading to greater emotional wellbeing postnatally (Green 1998)
Although there are mixed results about the length of labour during the second stage, many researchers found that women who had a water birth had shorter pushing phases (Zanetti-Daellenbahch et al. 2007; Torkamani et al. 2010; Mollamahmutoglu et al. 2012)
It has also been suggested it is potentially beneficial to have the water temp similar to normal body temperature (approx. 37-37.5 degrees celcius) to ensure a smooth transition for the newborn baby from the womb into her underwater environment.
In summary, continuing research suggests there are many benefits associated with water births in women with uncomplicated pregnancies such as shorter labour times, lower rates of episiotomy, higher rates of intact perineum and a lower use of pain management medications. Some researchers also suggest that water births decrease both maternal and neonatal stress by maximising placental oxygen perfusion as well as increasing the beneficial birth hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins which allow labour to progress efficiently.
Cochrane Review 2009, Immersion in water in labour and birth
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Chaichian, S., A. Akhlaghi, et al. (2009). “Experience of water birth delivery in Iran.” Arch Iran Med 12(5): 468-471.
Garland 2000. Garland D, Jones Waterbirths: supporting practice with clinical audit. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest. 2000;10(3):333–6.
Geissbuehler 2004. Geissbuehler V, Stein S, Eberhard J. Waterbirths compared with landbirths: an observational study of nine years. Journal of Perinatal Medicine. 2004;32(4):308–14.
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Mollamahmutoglu, L., O. Moraloglu, et al. (2012). “The effects of immersion in water on labor, birth and newborn and comparison with epidural analgesia and conventional vaginal delivery.” J Turk Ger Gynecol Assoc 13(1): 45-49.
Otigbah 2000. Otigbah CM, Dhanjal MK, Harmsworth G. A retrospective comparison of water births and conventional vaginal deliveries. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 2000;91(1):15–20.
Torkamani, S. A., F. Kangani, et al. (2010). “The effects of delivery in water on duration of delivery and pain compared with normal delivery.” Pakistani Journal of Medical Science 26(3): 551-555.
Zanetti-Dallenbach, R. A., W. Holzgreve, et al. (2007). “Neonatal group B streptococcus colonization in water births.” International journal of gynaecology and obstetrics: the official organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics 98(1): 54-55.