Benefits of a Water Birth
Water birth involves immersing in a tub filled with warm water during the labor or delivery. Some women prefer this method only at the beginning of labor (from the moment contractions start until the cervix is fully open) while others stay immersed in water throughout all process of labor and delivery. In both cases water birth is considered a type of hydrotherapy which is used to relieve pain.
The History of Water Birth
There is evidence that water birth has been practiced in different parts of the world for centuries. For example, Japanese women are reported to have labored in the sea while Finnish women are known to have given birth in saunas. According to the legends of South Sea islanders their women were giving birth in shallow seawater and Egyptian pharaohs were born in the water too. In the late 20th century this practice was researched by the Russian doctor Igor Charkovsky. In France the obstetricians Frederick Leboyer and Michel Odent started practicing water immersion during birth in the late 1960s, but only as a form of transition of an infant to an environment similar to the womb. Later this practice was used in labor for pain control and for delivery and became rather popular in the 1980s as an alternative to a horizontal position for childbirth. Since that time water birth has been extensively documented and researched.
Water Birth Today
These days most hospitals are equipped with birthing tubs for water birth. Those women who prefer home births can rent or purchase such tubs. But in this case it is required that a professional attendant with adequate training and experience in water birth should oversee labor and delivery.
According to numerous reports water birthing helps decrease the need for pain medicine during labor and has not been connected with a greater number of complications or negative outcomes for childbirth. Moreover, a lot of women who have used this method described their experiences in positive terms.
It is an interesting fact that the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) in the U. K. has allowed water birth as an alternative to traditional birth under the condition that the professionals versed in the technique are assisting women and the appropriate equipment is handled and maintained properly.
Advantages of Water Birth
According to one theory concerning the benefits of water birth the baby has spent nine months in the water of the amniotic sac and the birth into a similar environment is easier for the baby and less stressful of the mother as the water has relaxing and soothing effects. It is also believed that if the mother feels less stress during labor and delivery it reduces the possibility of various complications for the baby.
According to the American Pregnancy Association and Waterbirth International, the water helps relieve weight pressure and this ensures better uterine contractions, blood circulation, and supply of oxygen for the uterus and the fetus. It also helps lower high blood pressure and decrease stress-related hormones in the mother so she can produce more pain-relieving endorphin hormones. Relaxing the muscles of the floor of the abdomen the water helps reduce the tearing of the skin around the vagina.
Based on the analysis of numerous human studies about the difference between water birth and no immersion in water during labor or delivery there is strong evidence in support of the former method. At the first stage of labor, women immersed in water didn't require the use of pain-control measures, such as local anesthetic or numbing medicine. However, the need for the doctor to assist with the delivery by pulling the baby out didn't depend on whether a tub was used or not, nor there was any difference in rates of Cesarean section, tears around the vagina, or infection in the mother. Water birth also doesn't influence the rates of infection in the newborns, their admission to special hospital units, as well as the newborn's condition at birth measured by Apgar score. The Apgar score is based on five observations of the baby: breathing, appearance (blue to pink), activity or muscle tone, pulse rate and grimace or reflex irritability. Overall, there has been no evidence of an increase in negative outcomes for both the mother and the newborn caused by water birth.
Furthermore, numerous studies on water birth have confirmed the reduced need for pain control interventions during water birth compared to conventional labor. Mothers who gave birth in a tub describe their experience as positive one. Nurse-midwife practitioners interviewed for these studies also expressed positive attitudes towards water birth as the technique offering the perceived benefits to the mother, such as better maternal relaxation and reduced need for pain medicine.
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