More and more women are choosing to take control of their bodies during the birth process and giving birth in water, whether at home or in a hospital setting, are becoming increasingly popular.
Many hospitals now have midwife-led birthing units attached to their maternity units that offer water birth in the UK as a popular alternative for those women who want the security of giving birth in a hospital but without the more clinical birth offered in a delivery suite.
What is water birth?
Water-birth is as the name suggests; a birth that takes place in the water. This type of delivery usually takes place in a special birthing pool which looks a little like a giant paddling pool and has plenty of room for the labouring mother to sit or kneel in.
The positioning depends on how she feels comfortable while she is in labour and she can even stay in during the birth if she wants. The water in the pool will be warm, not too cold or too hot.
Benefits of water birth
There are some benefits of water birth that can make it a popular choice. The water can act as a very useful buoyancy aid for your pregnancy. Being able to immerse your body entirely in warm water can be incredibly soothing.
This not only lowers blood pressure but can also help the labouring mother to be more relaxed as she enters labour. Being more relaxed allows the body's naturally produced Oxytocin to flow, and this, in turn, can help to bring on better contractions as the body prepares to give birth.
It is believed that the warm water can also help to make contractions shorter and less intense. The improved blood circulation and more efficient contractions of the uterus mean that the muscles of the uterus receive more oxygen during labour this will benefit both mother and child.
The mother will benefit from reduced labour pain, and there is more oxygen provided to the baby during the birth process, providing a calmer birth experience for everyone.
While some women prefer to get out of the water to actually give birth, there is no need to do so unless the midwife has any concerns. Giving birth in water means that your baby is delivered into a familiar environment.
They are gently bought to the surface of the water by the midwife and can remain with the mother in the pool, often having their first breastfeed and beginning the bonding process in the water.
Water birth pros and cons
As with any type of birth, there are some pros and cons that you may want to consider. Here are just some of the water birth pros and cons.
Pain relief - For many women, one of the advantages of having a water birth is that this is a very natural birth with no pain relief; the water acts as pain relief. While this doesn't mean your delivery will be pain-free, many women feel giving birth in the water does decrease labour pains
Shorter labour – being more relaxed during the birth helps the Oxytocin to flow which helps contractions and can lead to a shorter labour
Control – many women feel that they have a greater sense of control over the birth when they are I the pool
Conserve energy – the water helps to support your body which can help conserve energy for after the birth
Perineal trauma – there is reduced perineal trauma with a water birth
Less trauma for the baby
Uncomfortable – during labour, whether in a pool or not, many women have a bowel movement. For some women, the idea of a midwife dealing with this during a water birth can make them uncomfortable.
Infection – there is a small risk of infection to the baby during your water birth if you have had a bowel movement. However, your midwife will act quickly in order to reduce this risk as much as possible.
Availability – while water births are becoming more popular, hospitals do not always have enough pools to accommodate everyone due to the unpredictability of babies' arrivals. It can be a good idea to have a backup birth plan.
Cost – if you want a home water birth, then the cost can be inhibitive although you can either hire a pool or rent one.
No pain relief – for some women, the pain relief offered by the water is not enough. If they require a different form of pain relief, they cannot continue with a water birth as they will need to be monitored.
Medical issues – if the heartbeat of your baby shows a problem, or you start bleeding during labour, then a water birth is not suitable. Your midwife may also recommend you get out of the pool if it becomes dirty or you are sleepy or faint for your safety and that of your baby.
Water birth - what to wear
When it comes to planning for the delivery of their baby, many women pack something to give birth in, into their hospital bag. The question many mums ask is what kind of water birth outfit should they pack?
Many women choose to wear a bikini or a tankini in the water birth pool, keeping the bottom half of the outfit on until it is time to begin pushing. Others prefer an oversized t-shirt with nothing on the bottom half.
Don't worry too much about what you wear; just ensure that it is comfortable and will allow your midwife to do her job. If you are planning to stay in the pool immediately after the birth and feed your baby, then you will also want to consider that in your choice of outfit.
It can be a good idea to pack a second birthing outfit and even something warm to wrap up in, just in case you need to get out of the pool. For example, you may wish to use the toilet or for the midwife to examine you. Wearing something to wrap up into will ensure you do not get cold.
Water Birth or Natural Birth?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Every woman is different, and no two birth experiences will be exactly the same. Many women who have had a vaginal delivery where they felt that they were not in control say that they found water birth easier for this reason.
A birth that is easier for the labouring mother is one where she feels she is listened to, in control of her body and in as little pain as possible. For many women, this is precisely what a water birth gives them.