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The Basics of Water Birth

A water birth means at least part of your labor, delivery, or both happen while you’re in a birth pool filled with warm water. It can take place in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home. A doctor, nurse-midwife, or midwife helps you through it.

In the U.S., some birthing centers and hospitals offer water births. Birthing centers are medical facilities that offer a more homelike setting than a hospital and more natural options for women having babies.  The use of a birthing pool during the first stage of labor might:

  • Help ease pain
  • Keep you from needing anesthesia
  • Speed up your labor

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which sets guidelines for pregnancy and childbirth care in the U.S., says a water birth during the first stage of labor may have some benefits but delivering your baby underwater should be considered an experimental procedure with risks. The first stage is from when contractions start until your cervix is fully dilated.

Studies show water birth during stage one doesn’t improve your or your baby’s medical outcome.

A warm bath might help you relax and help you feel more in control. Floating in water helps you move around more easily than in bed, too.

Some science suggests that the water may lower chances of severe vaginal tearing. And it may improve blood flow to the uterus. But study results about these points aren’t clear.

Stage Two of Labor: Time to Exit the Tub

Things change during the second part of labor. That’s when your cervix is completely dilated and open and you start pushing until the baby is born.

Many doctors say there isn’t enough information to decide how safe or useful water birth is during this period.

Being out of the water for the second part of your labor makes it easier to move fast in case something goes wrong, ACOG spokesman Aaron Caughey, MD, says.

“If you have to do an emergency C-section, it would be foolhardy to risk an extra 4 or 5 minutes to move you out of the water,” says Caughey, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Oregon Health and Science University.

Water Birth Risks

Here are some of the rare problems that could happen while water birthing:

  • You or your baby could get an infection.
  • The umbilical cord could snap before your baby comes out of the water.
  • Your baby’s body temperature could be too high or too low.
  • Your baby could breathe in bath water.
  • Your baby could have seizures or not be able to breathe.

“It’s important to emphasize the ‘rare’ part. But these are the sorts of outcomes that are severe, like drowning,” says Jeffrey Ecker, MD, who co-wrote the ACOG committee's opinion on water births.

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