Giving birth in waterJune 2015

Some maternity units have been offering mothers-to-be the option of giving birth in water, the foetus’ natural environment throughout pregnancy, since the 1970s. Although still not widespread, this method of delivery is becoming increasingly popular with mothers seeking a gentle birth as in tune as possible with their feelings.

 

What happens?

Waterbirths are offered by some maternity hospitals and birthing centres in numerous countries and aim to offer mothers and babies an intimate, gentle birthing experience. When the contractions become painful, the mother-to-be is invited to enter a large bath or pool of water, the temperature of which is kept around 37°C, the internal temperature of the body. If the pool is big enough, fathers-to-be can sometimes join their partner in the water and help her deliver their baby.

If the mother wants to, and depending on how she feels, she can stay in the pool throughout labour or come out from time to time to walk around, sit on a birthing ball or move around as she pleases.

 

 

 

 

Giving birth in water does not prevent attentive medical monitoring from being carried out, as is done in the case of a conventional delivery: watertight sensors are used so that babies can be monitored continuously. Hygiene is also equally strict to prevent contamination of the water in the pool by germs that could harm the baby.

When it comes to the actual delivery, there are two options:

-       If the maternity unit is suitably equipped, the birth may take place entirely in the water. The baby then passes from the uterine environment into the pool, which is at the same temperature and ensures a very gentle transition. It is left for up to a minute under the water during which it continues to be oxygenated by the umbilical cord as it is during pregnancy. Then it is gently laid on its mother’s stomach for their first skin-to-skin contact in the warmth and wetness to which it is accustomed. In the event of a problem during labour, the mother is of course taken out of the pool and transferred to a delivery room.

-       In other maternity units, the pool is only used during labour. Once the uterus is fully dilated, the mother is taken to a delivery room where the birth takes place conventionally.

 

Why give birth in water?

Giving birth in water offers both mother and baby a number of advantages. Warm water is relaxing, stress-relieving and antispasmodic, it accelerates labour and reduces the pain of the contractions. It also helps to relax the perineum, making it easier for the baby to come out and thus considerably reduces the number of episiotomies and tears during delivery. Women in labour can adopt whatever position they choose: sitting, crouching, lying down, on their knees... It is easier for them to move around as they are supported by the water.

From the baby’s point of view, the shock of birth is lessened: the baby comes into the world in a warm, liquid environment like the one it knew inside its mother. It is not immediately confronted with the air environment with its cooler temperatures or the effects of gravity, but comes into contact with these more gradually.

 

Who can give birth in water?

Giving birth in a pool is not suitable for all mothers-to-be. First, from the point of view of safety, only mothers to be whose pregnancy has been entirely free of complications can give birth in water. They must not have undergone a caesarean section, the baby must not be in the breech position and multiple pregnancies are also excluded.

Note also: giving birth in water means you cannot have an epidural as this cannot be given in a birthing pool. However, if you decide you want one, you can always leave the pool and transfer to a conventional delivery room during labour for this type of anaesthetic.

If you are tempted by the experience, speak to your gynecologist about it from the start of your pregnancy who will decide with you if it is possible. He can also help you to find a maternity hospital that offers this option for delivery. Finally, note that antenatal classes for delivery in a birthing pool are highly recommended if you are thinking of a waterbirth. So, are you ready to take the plunge?

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