According to Wikipedia, a water birth refers to childbirth, usually human, that occurs in water.
There are some misunderstandings as to what exactly a waterbirth refers to, as it may refer to:
- Women laboring in water during the early part of labor, then push and deliver outside the water ("early water labor")
- Women laboring in water during the second pushing stage then deliver outside the water ("later water labor")
- Babies born under water then removed from the water shortly afterwards ("under waterbirth")
There is no major culture known that walks on earth including humans that routinely delivers a baby under water. The only land mammals known to mate and deliver under water are hippos.
The few scientific studies done on labor in water but not water birth itself have shown that women who labor during the early stages of labor need less pain control such as epidurals. So there appear to be some maternal benefits to laboring but not delivering in water.
- Early water labor: OK
- Waterbirth: NOT OK
Considering the many advances we have made over the last decades in improving the safety of childbirth, the main consideration when planning a water birth should be the safety for the newborn baby.
Is there an advantage to the baby from being born in water?
The answer is that there is no known advantage to the newborn baby from a water birth. None. Zero. Advantages of laboring but not delivering in water are only for the mother and none for the baby.
Is there a disadvantage to the baby from being born in water?
The answer is a clear YES. Delivering in water is very risky to the baby and it can kill the baby. Not only are there no scientifically known advantages for the baby, but there are numerous case reports of babies born with adverse outcomes after an actual water birth. The concerns for serious harm include:
- serious infections,
- aspiration of water by the baby,
- respiratory distress syndrome,
- snapped umbilical cords,
- brain damage, and
- actual drownings of babies.
Women considering an actual delivery of the baby in or under water should be informed that there is no known advantage to the baby and that the safety to the baby of actual water births or under water births has not been scientifically proven and can be risky and kill babies. Women need to balance their own comfort laboring and delivering in water against the absence of known safety for the baby and the known potential risks to the baby from a water birth.