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Doctors' Groups Warn Against Underwater Births

Approach might help with early labor but can pose danger to newborns, ob/gyns and pediatricians say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURDAY, March 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Using a birthing pool during the early stages of labor can provide some benefits to women. However, giving birth underwater may put newborns at risk for serious health problems, according to a statement issued by two major medical organizations.

The joint opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is based on a review of available literature, the groups said.

"Many labor and delivery units are equipped with tubs to be used by laboring women, and immersion in water for relaxation and pain relief is appealing to some," Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, chairman of the ACOG committee that developed the opinion, said in a college news release.

"But it is important to recognize that laboring in water is not the same as delivering underwater," Ecker said. "Laboring in water may offer some potential benefits, but delivering underwater does not seem to have clear advantages, and the risk of rare but serious consequences to a delivering baby's health is something women and providers should all be aware of."

One ob-gyn agreed. "The birthing process imposes the first life stress test for the unborn and perhaps it is the riskiest trip of our lives," said Dr. Anthony Vintzileos, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. "I see no reason to make it more risky by laboring or giving birth in the water."

According to the ACOG/AAP statement, potential problems associated with underwater delivery include an increased risk of infection in the mother and baby, difficulty controlling the baby's body temperature, greater risk of umbilical cord damage, breathing problems caused by the baby inhaling water and possible seizures or asphyxiation of the baby after birth.

Hospitals or birth centers that offer water immersion in the first stage of labor should take a number of steps to protect the health and safety of the baby, according to the statement.

These measures include strict guidelines for selecting eligible women, proper cleaning and maintenance of tubs and immersion pools, following infection-control procedures, regular monitoring of women while immersed and removing women from tubs if there are any concerns about them or their babies.

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