Water birth hurts less: Fact or fiction
Deciding how you want to deliver your baby is quite an important decision to make during pregnancy. Many expectant women turn pale at the thought of labour pains. They may also find themselves overwhelmed with advice given by well-meaning friends and family. Water birthing to manage labour pains is one such advice that seems to keep popping up.
Let us take a closer look at this birthing technique to see if it is actually enough to effectively manage labour pains.
What is water birthing?
To understand if water birthing is the best way to manage labour pains, we need to know more about water birthing. Water birthing is an ancient way of giving birth in water with the help of a deep bath or “birthing pool”. The modern definition states that water birth means having at least a part of your labour and/or delivery in a pool of warm water. It is performed under the guidance of a medical practitioner (doctor or midwife).
The first mention of water birthing dates as far back as 1805, it rose to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. The idea behind water birthing is to provide a birthing environment as similar to the uterine environment. This is thought to ease the baby’s transition from the womb into the world while also reducing the stress of birthing for the mother.
In the first stage of your labour, when your contractions start but your cervix is not completely dilated, water immersion (in temperature-controlled water) can help ease the pains and make you feel more in control. Studies also suggests that giving birth in water can decrease the risk of severe vaginal tearing however conclusive evidence for this fact is yet to be found.
During stage two of your labour when your cervix is completely dilated and you start pushing to bring your baby into this world, you can choose to step out of the birthing pool or have your baby in the water itself.
If the doctor feels that there is a risk of complication, you might be asked to exit the pool to deliver your baby.
What makes water birthing a good birthing technique?
Being immersed in water during labour is a proven way to manage labour pains. Some women also claim to have felt calmer and more controlled during water birthing with an increase sense of privacy.
Warm water is known to encourage relaxation, reduces stress and stimulates the release of endorphins, kicking in the body’s own defence mechanism against pain. This also lowers the mother’s blood pressure which might have risen due to anxiety.
In some cases, water has also been shown to increase a woman’s energy in the latter stages of labour. The water’s buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and improves the blood circulation to the uterine muscles. This means lesser pain for the mother and more oxygen for the baby.
The water also makes the perineum more elastic and relaxed hence reducing the risk of severe tears while birthing. Perineum is the area between the vaginal opening and the anus. Perineum tears are quite common during childbirth, especially for larger or multiple babies. Based on the extent of the tear, it can be classified into 4 grades. Grade 3 and grade 4 perineum tears require surgical treatment while grade 1 and grade 2 can heal generally heal on their own.
There are several other benefits that are associated with water birth including shorter labours, lower postpartum blood loss, decreased physical contact (hands-off delivery), and greater feeling of satisfaction. However, more research needs to be done for conclusive results.
Is water birthing the answer to labour pains?
Many women do report that they felt significantly lesser labour pains when they were immersed in water. The temperature of the water helps relax the muscles, making labour pains more bearable for the mother.
However, pregnancy and birthing experience varies greatly from woman to woman. And water birthing does not take away labour pains entirely. While some women may feel almost zero pain while giving birth in the water, others may need to exit the pool for other pain management alternatives.
Watch the video as Dr Deepika Aggarwal (Dept. of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the CK Birla Hospital) explores this birthing technique and its numerous benefits
Is water birth the right choice for all?
Unfortunately, water birth is not suitable for everyone. The following factors can make water birthing an unsuitable birthing option for you:
- If you are younger than 17 years of age or older than 35 years of age
- If your pregnancy had any complications such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, or diabetes
- If you are giving birth to multiple babies
- If you are having a preterm delivery
- If your baby is too large
- If you have any infection
If your obstetrician or midwife feels that your labour needs to be monitored closely, or if any complications arise, water birth might not be advised. In case this occurs in the middle of water birthing, you may also be asked to exit the birthing pool.
What are some of the risks of water birthing?
There is no conclusive proof indicating that giving birth in water is any riskier than giving birth out of water. Further research is required to understand the benefits and risks associated with water birthing.
However, before deciding to opt for a water birth, an important factor to note is that the water makes continuous electronic fetal monitoring tough. Hence this birthing technique is possible only for low risk pregnancies.
Hospitals are extremely meticulous about maintaining the hygiene of their birthing pools following strict protocols set by medical authorities. While there is no statistical evidence suggesting that water birthing increases the risk of the baby getting an infection, there have a few exceptions.
If you have a smooth, complication-free pregnancy and you are leaning towards natural birth with alternate, conservative pain management; water birthing is definitely an option you should take a closer look into.
Ques: What do I wear during water birthing?
You should wear something that makes you feel comfortable. Just remember you are essentially in a large tub of water. Many women may choose to wear comfortable robes while birthing, others might wear a bra, vest or t-shirt if they desire more privacy. You can also decide to forgo clothing if that is comfortable to you.
Ques: What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing using self-hypnosis, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to manage labour pains. It can also be used in combination with other forms of pain relief. In some cases, it is shown to even shorten the labour. The research in the field of hypnobirthing is limited. Hence the true extent of benefits and risks of hypnobirthing is yet to be explored.
Ques: What are some of the benefits of water birthing?
Benefits of giving birth in water include:
- Decreased labour pains
- Decreased stress on the baby as he/she transitions from the uterus into the world
- More sense of privacy
- More control
In some cases, water birthing is also shown to have significantly lowered labour time.