Pros and Cons of a Water Birth Birthing Options

Water birth is a method of childbirth in which the mother spends the majority of the labor immersed in a tub of warm water. Proponents of water birth believe that it is a gentler and more natural way to give birth, but others believe that a water birth increases the risk of complication. Any woman considering a water birth should first consult with her medical provider.

Pros of Water Birth

Pain Reduction – Because of the heat and bouyancy of the water, the pain of labor is lessened. It is easier for the woman to find a comfortable position without assistance, increasing her range of movement and mobility.

Relaxation – The warm water has a soothing effect on the mother. Immersion in water lowers blood pressure and production of stress hormones, which can have a negative effect on the baby.

Less Perineal Tearing – Water relaxes the perineum, leading to increased elasticity. In water births, the perineum is less likely to tear, and the mother is less likely to need stitches afterward.

More Effective Contractions – The buoyancy of the water means less pressure is placed on the abdomen. In addition to helping with pain, this lack of pressure makes contractions more effective. Better contractions facilitate an easier labor, and also increase oxygen flow to the baby.

Gentle Birth – Because the birthing tub is kept at 97 degrees, the baby is born into an environment that mimics the amniotic sac inside the mother. Advocates of water birth believe that this eases the birth process for the baby, creating a gentler and less stressful transition into the world.

Cons of Water Birth

Lack of Research – Because water birth is a relatively new phenomenon, there have not been many conclusive studies available to evaluate its safety.

Aspiration of Water – Occasionally a newborn will take a first gasp of air inside or immediately outside of the birth canal. This is a relatively rare occurrence, but if it does occur during a water birth serious complications can arise. If the infant aspirates water instead of air, especially if the water has been tainted with meconium (feces), serious infections and even respiratory failure can result.

Bleeding – It can be difficult for a healthcare practitioner to accurately assess the mother’s blood loss during a water birth. Because the blood dilutes in the water, heavy bleeding can go undetected.

Infection – If the water in the pool is not clean, there is a possible risk of infection for both mother and infant.

Pregnancy Complications – Water birth is not advised for any pregnancy associated with certain complications or conditions, including: preeclampsia, breech position, diabetes, multiple births, herpes, excessive bleeding, premature labor and toxemia.

While the relative safety of water birth has not been concretely established yet, a growing number of midwives and obstetricians are supporting the process. Pregnant women considering a water birth should be sure to discuss the possible risks and benefits with their healthcare provider before making a decision.