If you've ever considered a water birth, in which you experience either labor and delivery or just labor in a tub of warm water, read on. Giving birth under water may appeal to you because, in theory, it's considered to be less stressful for you and your baby. In addition, water births can often lessen the fetal complications that ensue during labor and delivery that take place in a bed. Still, since there are plenty of misconceptions about giving birth underwater, we asked Barbara Harper, R.N., founder of Waterbirth International, a nonprofit organization that helps make water births an available option for moms-to-be, and Michelle Collins, C.N.M., an assistant professor of nursing at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing who specializes in nurse-midwifery, to dispel some of the most common myths of giving birth underwater, which always be done under the watchful eye of an experienced health care provider.
Harper says: That's one of the most common misconceptions about water births. People worry that a mother may release stool in the bath, which will contribute to an increase in infection. And while about 40 to 50 percent of women will have stool come out in the water when the baby is descending and emerging, overall infection rates for water births are reported as less than .01 percent. In fact, some experts feel that the water provides a barrier to infection and dilutes the possible bacteria to the point where the concentration is too low to cause any harm.
Collins says: If you're perfectly healthy and there are reassuring signs that the baby is doing fine, you should be cleared to have a water birth. In fact, even if you've heard that women over the age of 35 shouldn't have one, there are no standard rules about water births, and this simply isn't true. Whether or not a water birth is possible would never be based solely on age. However, if your baby is breech, if you've been diagnosed with excessive bleeding or maternal infection, if you're having multiples, or if pre-term labor is expected, you'll have to discuss with your healthcare provider whether you're a candidate for a water birth.
Harper says: A baby is actually an aquatic animal, receiving all of its oxygen supply from the placental circulation and bypassing its own lungs. The placenta acts as the filtration system and the breathing system for the baby in the womb. When the baby emerges into the water, that same system is still at work. The newborn who is lifted out of the birth water receives a signal to switch over from fetal circulation to newborn circulation, causing it to pump blood into the lungs for the first time.
Collins says: If you overheat the mom, you overheat the baby, which can lead to fetal distress. That's why the tub should be heated to 98 degrees, max, and you should remain hydrated throughout the labor and delivery. You may want the water cooler than 98 degrees, and that's okay, but you should never have it warmer. If you're considering a water birth, be sure to work with a midwife who keeps written policies about the water temperature, be sure there's a visible thermometer in the water and be sure your temperature (and the water temperature) is checked every half hour.
Harper says: The majority of women who use water in labor report that the water reduces their pain by more than half. Some even report feeling only the pressure and not the pain. One of the most common myths is that the water will take all the pain away. It is undeniably the best non-narcotic pain management available, but for some women, the water has little or no effect on their perception of pain. That's because labor happens between the ears, not the legs. When women get into the deep water of a birth pool, not just a shallow bathtub, there is a chemical and hormonal response that adjusts the level of the hormone oxytocin, which pumps from the brain and helps regulate the intensity of the contractions. So, as the body becomes buoyant in the deep water and more oxytocin is released, more pain-inhibiting endorphins flood the mother's brain, putting her more quickly into an altered state of consciousness and allowing her body to do the work that it needs to do. A bonus: Water causes the perineum to become more relaxed, which can reduce the severity of tearing. Ultimately, labor during a water birth can be much less painful for moms-to-be.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.