What Is Water Birth?

What is waterbirth banner

Water births are becoming more and more popular every year as an exceptional alternative to traditional births. Many women have reported them as being less painful, more natural, and safer than ground births.

If you're considering a water birth for your next delivery but don't know what exactly a water birth entails, then this post is for you. In this article, we'll cover what water birth is, some of its benefits, as well as give you some insight as to who qualifies for a water birth.

Short History of Water Births

In recent years, water births have gained much-respected traction across the globe as an alternative to traditional labour. In the U.K. alone, the number of water births amounts to a little bit more than 10% of all births in 2020. This number has substantially grown since 1993, when the Department of Health recommended them for pain relief.

But contrary to popular belief, water births are not a new practice at all. They've definitely emerged as a valid contender against land births. Yet, that doesn't mean that they're new in practice.

In actuality, many historians report that Egyptian pharaohs were born in lakes. Even some South Pacific Islanders gave birth to their babies in shallow seawater. A few places around the world even cherish water birth as a way to birth a baby to be more connected with the Earth.

The first known water birth in the western world was recorded in 1805 in a medical journal. This birth happened in France when a mother who was experiencing long and painful labour was recommended to take a warm bath to ease her pain. Soon after she relaxed into the bath, she went into labour and pushed her baby out.

Since then, multiple studies and experiments were launched in order to survey the benefits of water birth. Some of them were successful, others not so much. In fact, in 1960, a Russian water birth specialist who went by the name of Igor Tjarkovsky experimented with birthing babies into cold water rather than warm.

Things didn't go so well, and the process was scrapped in favour of keeping warm water. 

Plenty of other studies tried water birthing in several different scenarios for several different reasons. Many doctors believed it helped the baby transition smoothly into the world, as birth in a hospital setting might be traumatic to the child.

What came out to be a common result in all of these studies, however, was that using warm water helped relieve the pain of traditional labour.

Waterbirth also helps maintain the mother's right to choose what's best for their baby. Hospital births pose the risk of restricting women's choices or increasing medical interventions.

The Process of A Water Birth

Now let's take a look at what water birth actually is. Before we do that, we have to mention the difference between water birth and water labour. They're not very different, but it's still important to draw a line between the two. 

Both are separated into two stages. We'll discuss the specifics of each stage from here on out, giving details about the nuances between water birth and water labour. The main difference is that the mother stays in the pool through the whole water birth process. 

With water labour, the mother is in the pool while in labour until 10cms (fully dilated) or earlier if required or the mothers choice. Once she leaves the water, the mother is helped by her midwife(or nurse/doctor) to sit on the edge of the pool, or assisted to a floor mat, birth stool/ball or the bed.

Pregnant woman image

Stage One: Labour

Mothers are helped into a pool of warm water (around 33-37°C) once they begin going into labour. They're assisted by a doctor, a midwife or midwife-nurse, and a nurse. During this time, the mother is accompanied by her family, birth companions, or doula who can all help the mother both physically and psychologically. 

This stage is commonly referred to as water labour. It is when the mother stays in the water from the time of her first contraction (0-3cms) until 10cms (fully dilated) until the baby is ready to come out. When the actual birth happens, the mother leaves the water and sits on the edge of the pool, a mat, a birthing stool, or a bed to push out the baby.

The beginning stages of labour can last quite a long time. During this period of water birth, a mother may enter and exit the water frequently. The good thing is, the warm water has (according to studies) been shown to promote relaxation and increase the production of endorphins and oxytocin.

Multiple studies worldwide have shown that there are many water birth benefits for both the mother and baby. This includes both physical and psychological benefits. Just a few of them are mobility, relaxation, increased hormone production, and increased confidence in mothers (in relation to their labour ability).

Depending on the doctor's practice, location, religious factors, and preference, the mother might also go through with the water birth in this position. This isn't as widespread of practice as stage two of water labour but is still possible. Doctors determine if this is possible due to a few factors, one of which being whether or not the baby and mother are in stable conditions.

If the mother chooses to remain in the pool for birth, her birth professionals will support her and guide her as she delivers her baby.

Stage Two: Birth

Whilst most birth professionals still identify that labour is two stages (second stage being fully dilated 10cms to full delivery of her baby). Labour is a continuim of cervical dilation and contractions at different rates. Research studies have shown that the benefits of waterbirth include optimal cord clamping, direct immediate skin to skin contact and transfer of maternal microbiome. Many studies have shown that newborns will not breathe underwater due to physiological and chemical inhibitors.

If any complex situation occurs for mother or baby, birth professionals should have been taught how to deal with these issues. Medical transfer and interventions are rare, but can be initiated easily. Emergency evacuation is extremely rare and requires appropriate training and equipment

Is It Safe?

Evidence shows that water birth is generally a very safe practice when performed by skilled birth professionals. The biggest concern with waterbirth is the small risk of infection. All pools and equipment should be robustly cleaned following manufacturers' instructions.

Pools should be cleaned daily and after use.

Before considering a water birth, a mother should always consult with her health professional or even a women's advocacy group to help weigh out the pros and cons.

In addition to being safe, there's hardly any type of medical equipment used compared to a hospital (in which there are cords, IVs, medical tools, monitors, etc.). 

In fact, some experts say that labouring in the pool is actually safer for the baby and the mum. This is because it promotes relaxation and significantly reduces pain without the need for sedatives or pain medication. 

Interestingly, a Cochrane study showed zero cases of harm done to babies during a trial of over 3,000 mothers. They found that using water birth reduces the need for medication such as an epidural.

Water Birth Benefits

There is evidence that outcomes for newborn is safe in water with skilled birth professionals hands. The minimal risk of an infection is often seen as an issue with cleaning of pool /filters or water supply. As with any choice a mother makes she should spend time investigating pros and cons with her health professional, womens advocate groups and the internet

One other potential benefit of water birth is that it could potentially cost much less. This is especially the case if you're considering doing a home water bath, in which you'll be required to pay less than you would at a hospital. Evidence appears to show that outcomes for newborns are as safe as land births

Home water bathpools can run anywhere from £80 to £400, depending on how fancy you want to get. If you want a reliable, safe, and affordable personal pool for your water birth, we suggest you check out our selection here at Birth Pool In A Box.

Other benefits include:

  1. Shortened labour
  2. No need for anesthesia
  3. Reduced risk of perineal cuts or tears
  4. Doing it in the comfort of your home
  5. Less stimulating for your baby

And more. Some people might even like the idea of having their baby born in an element more connected to the earth, such as water.

Do I Qualify For A Water Birth?

As always, we recommend talking with your doctor and OB/GYN before going through with water birth. In most cases, mothers should be okay for water births, given that they do not have any predeveloped conditions to worry about. These conditions include a breech baby, premature baby, large baby, multiple births, or infected body parts.

You should also keep in mind that water births are not for mothers who have preeclampsia, diabetes, or need to be under constant supervision. 

Women are also not disqualified for waterbirth based on their background, age, religious practices, or ethnicity.

The Right Equipment For A Home Water Birth

Are you considering doing a water birth for your upcoming delivery? How exciting! Whether or not you choose to do one or not, we are wishing you the best in your delivery and that your baby is born happy and healthy.

If you are interested in home birth, we recommend you talk with your doctor first to see if the process would fit your needs and requirements. From there, you can make a decision on whether or not you would like to go through with a home water birth.

We invite you to take a look at our wide selection of water birth supplies that include both personal and professional pools, waterbirth thermumeters, complete water birth kits, and much more. If you have any other questions about water births, feel free to visit our blog for more info or contact us here.