I, like most people, formulated many of my perceptions of birth based on television shows and movies. In all “normal” situations, the mother is whisked into the hospital already barely capable of breathing, screaming in pain, and nearly ready to push. She is positioned on a bed where she will be surrounded by nurses and doctors who yell at her to “PUSH!!” This lasts for a few moments, and then the baby suddenly appears. I think it is this perception that made it so shocking for me when, at a dear friend’s baby shower, she began discussing her intention to have a water birth.

I admit that I wasn’t even entirely sure what a water birth was, much less how this type of birth could impact the birthing experience or the baby. Listening to her talk about her plans though, I found myself fascinated by this concept of delivery. She planned to deliver in a birthing center where she would labor and deliver in a large tub of warm water. Her obvious confidence and excitement about her birth plan got me really thinking about all of the amazing choices women have when it comes to giving birth today.

When I told my husband about the idea that night though, he was quick to take away some of the warm and fuzzy feelings I had developed from the calm, peaceful portrait of water birth that my friend had painted. “Won’t the baby drown?” he asked.

“Of course not!” I was fast to respond. That got me thinking though. I was positive the baby wasn’t going to drown. After all, the concept of water birth wouldn’t exist if babies were drowning immediately after birth. What then are the potential safety risks of water births, and do all the benefits my friend was citing really exist?

Studies have indicated that when compared to women who delivered on a birthing stool and women who delivered on a bed, women who used the water birth technique experienced lower instances of necessary episiotomies, fewer lacerations, and greatly reduced use of pain relieving medications. These women also tended to have faster labors, lower blood loss, and delivered babies who ranked higher on the Apgar scales at both 5 minutes and 10 minutes after birth.

To be truly safe, however, a water birth should be attended by a qualified midwife or other practitioner who is capable of monitoring the condition of mother and baby and who can address any unexpected situations that arise. Babies whose umbilical cords tear or are delivered with their placenta can be at risk of aspiration if not removed from the water promptly.

Geissbuhler, V., Eberhard, J. Waterbirths: a comparative study. A prospective study on more than 2,000 waterbirths. Fetal Diagn Ther, 2000, 15(5):291-300.

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