Splish, Splash…I’m in Labor
Options in Water Birth

by Adele Garrison, RNC

Why would you want to give birth in a tub of water? To labor in water, or not to labor in water; to give birth while in water, or not give birth while in water….that is the question. Water birth is not a new birthing practice. It was first mentioned in the medical literature as early as 1805. Two physicians completed even more study and research in the 1960s, yet many think water birth is something new for the 90s.

Why would you want to give birth in a tub of water? Your mother didn’t, your friends think it is a weird idea, your significant other wants to be supportive but is not sure. Let us look at the facts and take the mystery out of the question.

Those who are supportive of water birth believe it lessens the pain of labor, and oftentimes decreases the length of labor. Laboring in water creates a feeling of weightlessness (something you thought you would never feel again!), gives support to tense muscles, thereby decreasing pain. As your comfort level increases, you experience less anxiety, and this leads to decreased adrenaline production. Decreased adrenaline production allows for increased oxytocin and endorphin production, which allows labor to be stimulated and oftentimes contributes to more rapid dilation of your cervix. Those are very positive reasons to consider labor and birth in a tub of water!

How do you know if this is the right choice for you? Well, here are some things to consider. If you are planning strictly for an epidural, laboring in a tub of water is not for you. If you are planning on attending childbirth classes and learning the many methods and techniques for pain relief in labor, such as breathing, relaxation, distraction, breathing, massage, breathing…. then adding the component of water to your birth plan could work very well for you. You need to discuss this in detail with your doctor or midwife and know what their experience with water birth is. There are usually some basic criteria that need to be met. You must have a "low risk" pregnancy and be at least 37 weeks along. The baby must have a normal fetal heart rate tracing before you can get in the tub. The baby must be head down; breech deliveries are not done in the water. You must also be in good health with no infections or communicable diseases. Your significant other needs to be appropriately dressed (a bathing suit is always nice). It is also important to have someone who is willing to set the tub up for you, maintain the water temperature and be willing to clean the tub after you are done. This allows your significant other and nursing staff to attend to your other needs. You need to remain flexible at all times. If you or your baby is not tolerating this well, you need to be willing to move out of the tub and try something different. Also, after the delivery of your baby, you need to move out of the tub for the delivery of your placenta.

Water birth is not for everyone, but it is a delightful and comforting birthing process for many. It is wonderful to experience less pain and anxiety and be able to concentrate on the miracle that is about to happen. It is wonderful to step away from your own needs and know that very soon, in a calm and comforting fashion, you will be welcoming your child into your life.

Editorial provided by Adele Garrison, RNC of HealthOne, Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.