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Water Birth: Benefits & Risks

Are you considering a water birth? Delivering in water has recently become popular, and more hospitals now offer water births. However, water birth is still considered an alternative birthing method, and not every doctor is convinced that it's safe. So before deciding on a water birth, be sure you understand the risks and benefits.

What's Involved in a Water Birth?

Just like it sounds, a water birth is giving birth in water. You may choose to deliver in a bathtub, hot tub (with the temperature turned down), or other pool of water. You can have a water delivery at home, in a birthing center, or in a hospital.

You can labor and deliver in the water or move out of the water for the actual delivery. If you deliver in the water, the midwife or nurse will gently lift up and take your baby out of the water.

During a water birth at a hospital, both you and your baby will receive the same medical care as you would in a hospital bed. A special underwater Doppler device will monitor your baby's heartbeat. You can also receive medications through an IV while you are in the water. If you have a water birth at a standalone birth center or at home, you may have heartbeat monitoring or none at all.

Is Water Birth Right for You?

Only women with a healthy pregnancy free of complications should consider a water birth. Be sure you fit the following profile before deciding on a water birth:

  • You don't have an infection or excessive bleeding.
  • You don't have any pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia or bacteria in the bloodstream, called toxemia.
  • You don't have herpes. The infection can pass to the baby through the water.
  • Your pregnancy is full term, or giving birth after 39 weeks.

If you are having twins or other multiples, or if your baby is in the breech position with the baby's bottom or feet ready to come out first, ask your doctor whether a water birth is safe for you.

Know the Risks of Water Birth

There haven't been many high-quality studies done on water births. Of those that have been done, the results are mixed. Some studies found rare but serious risks for baby. Other research shows that water births are just as safe as (if not safer than) bed births.

If you meet the criteria above and are considering a water birth, be sure you understand the risks.

  • Brain injury from lack of oxygen underwater
  • Electrolyte problems from the baby swallowing water
  • Serious infection from contaminated water

If your provider offers water births, you should feel free to discuss these risks.

Why Women Choose Water Birth

Research on the benefits of water birth is also unclear. Some studies have shown certain benefits for moms while others show no real benefit. However, some people believe a water birth offers moms a natural, soothing environment for delivery.

Here are some reasons why new moms may choose a water delivery:

  • Some moms believe a water birth is a more natural and less stressful experience for them and their new baby.
  • A water birth may give a woman a sense of control over her delivery.
  • Water provides natural buoyancy, which makes the mother feel lighter.
  • Water relaxes the mother, allowing her to concentrate on the birth.
  • Water relaxes the mother's muscles and improves blood flow.
  • Water may reduce vaginal tearing, thus helping the mother avoid an episiotomy or stitches.
  • A water birth may shorten the first stage of labor and reduce the need for anesthesia.

WebMD Medical Reference

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