Waterbirth Frequently Asked Questions Professional providers and mothers alike consider waterbirth as the most gentle method of natural childbirth. Below are some frequently asked questions about waterbirth. If you are interested in a home waterbirth please visit our Midwifery Services for more information.
Why waterbirth? Adjusting the way we bring our children into this world is essential. With a safe and comfortable environment, filled with plenty of privacy, security, and a feeling of love, the mother may freely release, allowing her and her baby to experience joy. The use of water to increase relaxation for labor and birth is one way of providing this opportunity for women and their babies.
What is the temperature of the water? For a waterbirth, the water in the pool is maintained at a temperature which is comfortable for the mother, usually between 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature should not exceed 101 degrees because over heating can cause the heart rate to accelerate and increases the babies oxygenation needs. Importantly the mother continues drinking plenty of fluids. Chilled compresses and a cool facial mist help many hot mamas feel cooler.
When can I get into the water? A woman in labor should be encouraged to do whatever she wants; however, a mother in early labor, before her surges are strong and close together, may become so relaxed by the warm water slowing or stopping the labor altogether. Helping mama feel comfortable and productive, we recommend the use of the pool once the labor pattern is established and the dilation of the cervix is at least 5 centimeters. The first hour of relaxation in the labor pool is usually the best and often helps a woman achieve complete dilation!
What prevents a baby from taking a breath under the water? Several factors inhibit the baby from breathing during the period when its head emerges into the water and just after the full body has been born. First of all, the water temperature is basically the same as the amniotic fluid in the womb, so there is no shock of a temperature change. Second, the baby is receiving oxygen from the umbilical cord just the way it has for the previous nine months. And third, an autonomic reflex, called the dive reflex, prevents the baby from inhaling any substance that is in its throat causing it instead to swallow. This reflex is present for approximately six months after birth and then it disappears. Air breathing begins only after the baby is out of the water and exposed to a change in temperature and air pressure, experiencing a complex metabolic chain reaction of hormones and chemicals. Rest assured, physiologically breathing is impossible for a newborn until its body is out of the water and touching the air.
How long is the baby left in the water? Here in the U.S., all practitioners bring the baby out of the water within the first ten seconds following birth. There is no physiological reason to leave the baby under the water for any length of time. There are several water birth DVDs that depict leaving the baby under the water where the babies are just fine. But physiologically, we cannot predict when the placenta begins to separate and stops flowing oxygen to the baby. The umbilical cord pulsating is not a guarantee that the baby is receiving enough oxygen. The safest approach is without hurrying, gently place baby into mother’s arms.
Is waterbirth safe? The safety of water birth needs to be judged in looking back at the number of cases that have been reported world wide and the number of problems that have occurred as a result of birth in water. To date, over 100,000 documented cases of water births give us a good look at the statistics. The opinion of most practitioners is that water birth poses no threat to mother or baby if all the normal parameters are met during labor and birth. If complications arise they are evaluated and sometimes the mother is asked to leave the water before the birth takes place. Everyone’s goal is to keep mother and baby safe, facilitating a satisfying birth experience. The British government stated in a published health report that any woman who wants a waterbirth should be able to have one and that it is up to the practitioner to become familiar with the technique if not already educated.
How is the baby monitored during a waterbirth? The manufacturers of monitoring equipment and hand held dopplers have developed water proof varieties of monitoring equipment. In typical waterbirths the baby’s heart tones are listened to every 30 minutes during first stage and after every other pushing contraction during second stage.