Opposing Views on Waterbirth
When the concept of waterbirth is posed, people tend to have polar opposite reactions. They may imagine it to be disgusting, swimming in a pool of body secretions or relaxing like being in a spa. They may envision it to be completely natural (because of course, the baby has been in a pool of water, not breathing for 9 months) or totally unnatural (after all we aren’t dolphins!). Or perhaps they view it as a great innovation in childbirth since our grandmothers had very medical, sterile births or they may think it’s antiquated like boiling water.
But I find that when a woman is in labor, a pool of water is her best solution to fatigue, anxiety and pain. Most women get in and never want to come out irregardless of whether they initially liked the idea or not. Previous concerns about what is in the water completely disappear. She has managed to get back into her “groove” and feels the labor progressing and knows that the effects of water immersion have decreased adrenaline, increased oxytocin, added the comforting pressure of hydrostatic pressure on her body and improved mobility-making labor tolerable if not enjoyable.
Waterbirth for Relaxation and Pain Relief
Our practice sees a lot of natural childbirth. We give water immersion and waterbirth much of the credit. Our clients have the advantage of a strong provider/patient relationship and the presence of their midwife during active labor. They are well-prepared for labor during their pregnancy because of the midwives’ teaching, childbirth classes, exercise and yoga classes and lifestyle coaching by our wellness advisor. We provide and welcome our client’s doula services; pressing on backs or hips and offering drinks, honey and encouragement. We are patient with labor, never quick to induce or augment labor. We like to see labor progress with walking and swaying and ball-sitting. But nothing makes labor more doable and beautiful than waterbirth.
Of course safety remains the concern of many people and groups like American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Academy of Pediatrics. Their committee opinion issued in May 2014 stated that the evidence supporting the safety of waterbirth is lacking and so they do not recommend this pain relieving measure for labor. While the American College of Nurse-Midwives has a much more positive position on waterbirth.
It really doesn’t matter how “natural” the birth is if the mother and baby are not ok. We all agree with that sentiment. My practice alone has caught over 1000 waterbabies safely without even one adverse effect related to the birth under water. I know for a fact that babies do not breathe under the water because of my own experiences. I believe that our sample size combined with many other midwives’ data across the USA is significant and conclusions of waterbirth safety could be found there. Studies are now in process; our own hospital, Morristown Medical Center, is currently conducting waterbirth research. We will soon be able to give definitive evidence of waterbirth safety.
Additional Benefits of Waterbirth
Benefits of waterbirth beyond pain relief and relaxation include reduced perineal trauma, quicker labor, reduced blood pressure and pulse in mother, fewer infections (as Barbara Harper of Waterbirth International says “the solution to pollution is dilution!”) and reduced need for cesarean section. Our experience at the Midwives of New Jersey is that waterbirth is loved by mother and baby alike. The baby is greeted by a mother who calm and hormonally primed to begin mothering. We just stand back quietly and observe the beginning of the single most significant relationship the baby will ever have in its life without interfering with God’s/Nature’s perfect plan for bonding at birth.
It is not the water that makes the birth natural, rather the water makes a natural birth much more probable. No matter your initial reaction to the concept of waterbirth, I believe it is worth your consideration.