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What are Water Births?

Allison Boelcke
By Allison Boelcke
Updated May 17, 2024
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Water births are a type of labor method in which a woman sits in a tub or shallow pool of warm water, supervised by a midwife or doctor. Water birthing is based on the notion that warm water mimics the amniotic fluid a baby is surrounded with in the womb and eases the transition into the outer world. It is also promoted as helping the mother feel more in control of the birth instead of the doctor.

Advocates of the water birth process believe that warm water is relaxing and can increase a woman’s energy levels, especially during the final stages of labor. The immersion is thought to improve blood circulation and reduce the pain from uterine contractions. Water may also relax the pelvic muscles and vaginal opening to prevent tearing or other complications.

Those who promote water births believe the water has psychological advantages as well. Being surrounded by warm water may aid a woman in mentally focusing on the birth rather than being distracted by physical pain. Sitting in a birthing pool may give a woman a feeling of privacy as opposed to lying on a raised hospital bed.

Water births begin by filling a birthing pool, such as an inflatable pool or small tub, with warm water. Ideally, the temperature of the water is heated to match the pregnant woman’s body temperature. Women can choose to sit in the pool at any stage of labor except the very beginning.

If the uterine contractions have not established a regular pattern, sitting in a birthing pool may overly relax the body and potentially stop labor. Once a woman’s contractions are regular, she can sit in the birthing pool. Some physicians and midwives believe the warm water may cause cervix dilation to increase too quickly, so women may be advised to wait until the cervix is dilated 5 centimeters before immersing in the water.

Once a woman’s cervix is dilated to 10 centimeters, she can usually begin pushing out the baby into the water. The healthcare provider will generally remove the baby from the water within 10 seconds of delivery. Leaving the baby under the water for longer periods of time may potentially cause oxygen deprivation if the umbilical cord isn’t providing an adequate amount.

Water births are not recommended for all women. Pregnant women with infections, especially herpes, can spread the infection through the water. Water birthing can also be difficult for giving birth to multiple babies or for single babies that are positioned breech with the bottom or feet facing down. Preterm labor can also face complications in water births.

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Discussion Comments

By sobeit — On May 27, 2011

@uzumba2 - Water births first became popular in the U.S. in the early 1980s, and between 1985-1990 their popularity grew in the UK, Europe, and Canada.

Giving birth in water is known to be very effective in reducing lower back pain during labor as well as reducing the need for an episiotomy with a lower chance of tearing.

By uzumba2 — On May 26, 2011

I will be attending a birth in water in the next few months. I hope it will be as soothing to the mother as it is supposed to be for the baby (since the mother is MY baby).

When did water births first come into popularity?

By Jester39 — On May 23, 2011

My daughter is planning a waterbirth for her first baby. I know it sounds wonderful but if the baby is a breech, she'll have to go to the hospital after all.

I think the important thing is to have a plan, have a backup plan, and be as flexible as possible to meet the needs of the actual birth.

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