Water birth is a method of giving birth, which involves immersion in warm water.
This can take place at home or at a hospital that is equipped with a birth pool.
Proponents believe that this method is safe and provides many benefits for both mother and infant, including pain relief and a less traumatic birth experience for the baby.
During the 1960s, Soviet researcher Igor Charkovsky undertook considerable research into
the safety and possible benefits of water birth in the Soviet Union.
In the late 1960s, French obstetrician Frederick Leboyer developed the practice of immersing
newly-born infants in warm water to help ease the transition from the womb to the outside
world, and to mitigate the effects of any possible birth trauma.
Another French obstetrician, Michel Odent, took Leboyer’s work further, using the warm-water
birth pool for pain relief for the mother, and as a way to normalize the birth process. When some women refused to get out of the water to finish giving birth, Odent started researching the possible benefits for the baby of being born under water, as well as the potential problems in such births. By the late 1990s, thousands of women had given birth at Odent’s birthing center at Pithiviers,
and the notion of water birth had spread to many other Western countries.
In the United States, water births happened through couples giving birth at home, but soon was introduced into the medical environment of hospitals and free-standing birth centers by midwives and obstetricians. In 1991, Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, New Hampshire became the first USA hospital to create a protocol for giving birth in water. By 2005, there were over 9000 hospitals in the US that had adopted such protocols.
More than three-quarters of all National Health Service hospitals in the UK provide this option for laboring women.
Considerable research has been undertaken into the safety of water birth. Two of the most prolific researchers have been Michel Odent and the American obstetrician Michael Rosenthal. Dianne Garland, a midwife in the UK, has focused on gathering research through the National Health Service system, and has published a book called, Waterbirth: An Attitude to Care. In the US, Barbara Harper, a nurse and childbirth educator, has explored waterbirth throughout the world, and chronicled the history and current use of waterbirth in dozens of countries in her book, Gentle Birth Choices. Harper has compiled an extensive bibliography of research on the subject, which can be seen at the website for Waterbirth International.
Hypothesis of origin
David Attenborough has linked the claimed benefits of water birth to the aquatic ape hypothesis. This hypothesis is controversial but suggests that proto-humans had a more aquatic existence. The proponents of the theory point to several anatomical differences between humans and apes. In particular, babies have much more subcutaneous fat than apes. The fat appears in the thirtieth week of pregnancy and continues increasing for the first year after birth. As well the insulation for a baby while its mother is in water, the additional buoyancy has been noted as another benefit of fat. Babies also float unaided.
Vernix Caseosa (the waxy or cheese-like white substance found coating the skin of newborn humans) has also been cited as further evidence, as the only other species in which it has been observed are marine mammals. Vernix is sometimes offered as supporting evidence for the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH/AAT) that the reason for the divergence between the hominids and their ape-like relatives was due to a long semi-aquatic phase of history. No other land mammal, including other apes, produces vernix-coated neonates; in contrast, some sea mammals, including the harbour seal, do.
Source: Wikipedia/Water Birth
How to Prepare for a Water Birth
Before you finally decide that water birth is for you, you need to examine your own motivations and expectations for wanting a water birth. Ask yourself what made you decide on a water birth and why.
Also examine how you would feel if your baby were not born in water, for whatever reason. Get in touch with your feelings, fears and motivations.
Some women are not comfortable being naked in front of other people. You can birth with a loose fitting t-shirt, camisole or tank top.
And then trust your decision.
Choosing a birth pool
Big enough to sit in comfortably
Deep enough for water to come up to armpit level, for adequate degree of buoyancy.
For birthing, the water actually only needs to come up to below breast level, so that baby can go to the breast straight after birth if so wished.
Ensure that tap adapters supplied with pool fits your water connectors, being either tap or shower.
Rental period should cover at least 2 weeks before and after due date.
Find out what the water capacity of the pool is - then check the water capacity of your geyser.
Do a test run to see how long it takes to fill your pool.
The Birthing Room
The floor should be strong enough to hold the pool when filled with water.
The room should be large enough to allow access to the pool from all sides.
Heat the room to personal comfort.
Have heated towels and blankets available for mother and baby. (Heat them over a fin heater or
in your washing dryer)
Your water supply should be clean, pure enough to drink.
Do not add any essential oils.
Water temperature should be around 36.5-37°C.
When to get in the pool
Do not get into the pool without the midwife being present.
Wait until you have a strong desire to be in the water.
Best to wait until your contractions are strongly established.
If the contractions slow down when in the water, get out, go to the loo and move about to get the contractions going again.
Eat and Drink
Drink when thirsty.
Eat light, easily digested food when hungry.
Don't starve yourself thinking that you will get sick.
Eating and drinking during labour has shown to reduce time in labour.
Experiment with kneeling, squatting, leaning, sitting or lying comfortably.
Some women prefer their partners to be in the tub as well.
Try out floating or inflatable pillows.
Debris in the Pool
Use a sieve to remove any clots, mucous, faeces or vomit from the water as soon as possible.
Don't spend a lot of energy on this, it seldom happens.
How long should the baby stay underwater?
Once the baby's body is born, the mother or midwife will lift the baby out so that his body get's into contact with the air.
The baby's body can stay immersed in the water.
Baby's head must stay above the water level. Baby's head should be covered with baby beanie to stay warm and not loose heat.
Baby can stay with mother in the water as long as baby is fine and not getting cold.
Mother can start breastfeeding whilst still in the water if she so wishes.
When does the baby start breathing?
The baby does not breathe until after its face leaves the water and its skin comes into contact with the air or it is stimulated. Until then and after, the baby receives oxygen through its umbilical cord.
The delivery of the Placenta (afterbirth)
It is preferred to birth the placenta out of the water to reduce the risk of bleeding.
The midwife will have a stool that you can sit on to deliver the placenta or a bowl will be placed in the toilet so you can sit on the toilet.
Make sure you are covered in a heated blanket to stay warm.
The placenta usually comes away naturally after about 10 to 30 minutes after birth, sometimes a bit longer.