The healing and pain-relieving properties of water have been hailed over the centuries, and the use of water immersion during labor is becoming a popular pain control option for women who are looking for ways to avoid the use of painkillers and/or epidural anesthesia for their birth. Some women opt to use one of the tubs available at Morristown Medical Center for relaxation in labor. Women may choose to labor in the tub and get out for delivery, while others decide to deliver their baby in the tub.
The theory behind waterbirth is that the delivery may be gentler and less stressful for the baby, as they emerge from the amniotic fluid into the pool of warm water. It is often also more comfortable for the mother. People often wonder, "How does the baby breathe during a waterbirth? Isn't it dangerous?" Several factors prevent the baby from inhaling water at the time of birth. The baby in utero is oxygenated via the umbilical cord from the placenta. Many complex inhibitory responses prevent the baby from inhaling water while in the tub. They do not normally take a breath until their face hits the air. A complex chain of hormonal, chemical and physical responses initiate the baby's first breath of air. Right up until the baby takes its first cry, the placenta is still providing oxygen to the baby. There is also no evidence of increased infections for women who labor/deliver in the tub, whether or not their membranes have ruptured.
Potential Benefits of Water Immersion/ Waterbirth
- water is soothing,relaxing and comforting
- the buoyancy of the woman's body allows her to be more comfortable, lessens her weight, and allows for freedom of movement
- encourages the body to release more oxytocin, promoting more efficient contractions, and shortening the length of labor
- Immersion may lower high blood pressure caused by anxiety/pain
- seems to decrease stress-related hormones, allowing the mother's body to release endorphins, which are pain-inhibitors
- relaxes the perineum which reduces the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for stitches
- as the woman relaxes physically, she can concentrate her efforts on the birth process--the baby exits in to an environment similar to the amniotic sac
- eases stress of birth on the infant.
Potential Risks of Waterbirth
There are theoretical risks including water embolism, when water enters the mother's blood stream. Other possible complications may include difficulty delivering the shoulders of the baby, due to positioning, and cord complications if there are several loops of cord around the baby's neck. There has been very little research done in this area, but it has been our experience that these difficulties are rare. Women are carefully screened to see if they are potential waterbirth candidates. Fever/infection, meconium stained amniotic fluid, or a non-reassuring fetal heart rate are some of the reasons that use of the tub would not be permitted.
For more information on the benefits of waterbirth, please use the following links: