Birthing In Water

Have you been thinking about where to have your baby? At home, in a birth centre or the delivery suite?  It can feel daunting to make a choice about what kind of birth environment suits you best and what kind of birth you would like to prepare and plan for.

In our series of blogs on birth choices – which we cover in detail in our antenatal course and advise and support you in making the best choice for you, we are going to start with waterbirths.

Waterbirth was first reported in an 1805 medical journal, started to become more popular in the 1990s and we’ve seen more and more people birthing in water in the last 2 decades.

A warm bath is truly comforting and many women find having a bath or shower very comfortable in pregnancy.  This feeling of relaxation in water can continue in labour. What’s not to love about it – it’s warm and you’re buoyant so you can move more easily into any position that suits you.

Many birth centres and even obstetric units have birth pools now, and almost 10 per cent of UK babies have a ‘waterbirth’. More women, around one in five, spend time during labour in water – be it in the shower, bath or birth pool – before giving birth but it’s not classed as a waterbirth unless you actually deliver in the water. 

One of the great benefits of being in water is that you’ll experience the weightless feeling and increased mobility that enables you to easily change positions during labour. Many women who give birth in water do so by kneeling or on all fours, using the sides of the pool or their partner for extra support.

Many women describe how the heat of the water ‘takes the edge off’ labour discomfort, just like a bath or a hot water bottle can soothe away other aches and pains. There’s also something about being in your own private space that makes you feel more protected in a waterbirth, and this feeling of safety can have a powerful effect on your body. Being relaxed, feeling safe and having made a conscious choice to give birth naturally in water may alter your perception of pain and increase your sense of power and resilience.

Researchers have found that women who’ve had water births describe it as ‘relaxing’, ‘pleasurable’ and ‘fulfilling’, and that around 80 per cent of women would give birth this way again.  Several studies have shown that women who choose a waterbirth are less likely to want other forms of pain relief and more likely to report a positive experience of childbirth, perhaps because with the freedom of movement and the soothing feeling of the warm water, labour feels more manageable.

All midwives are trained in how to use water for labour and birth, and each NHS trust will have its own guidance for use of their pools.  Your midwife will advise you on how to set up your birth pool at home, and will have it ready for you in the birth centre or delivery suite if you request it.

During labour your midwife will keep an eye on the temperature, and will let you know if it’s getting too hot. The water temperature should not be above 37.5°C.  Your midwife will also advise you on how best to monitor baby’s heartrate in water, what positions may be more comfortable and advise your birth partner on how to support you too.

Something everyone wonders about is how baby breathes underwater – but your baby won’t take their first breath until they meet the air, due to something called the ‘dive reflex’. Until this first breath, baby is still getting all the oxygen they need from the placenta, just as throughout your pregnancy while ‘underwater’ in the amniotic fluid of your womb.

Despite planning a water birth, some women find they don’t like being in the pool: if this happens to you, don’t worry, you can simply get out – you don’t have to stick to your birth plan. Or you may simply decide you’d like a change and labour on dry land – again that’s OK. Out of the pool you can try different pain relief such as an epidural or opioids – you can’t have these in the pool but you can have gas and air.

Our Midwife Hayley who is huge fan of water births shares that “water births can be truly magical and an incredibly empowering birth experience.  We know some parents to be might be unsure about giving birth in a pool but try not to worry. Remember all forms of water therapy can help with the power of contractions and act as pain relief during labour – so don’t be afraid to try it to manage labour- you never know you may end up loving it so much you end up having baby in water too!”

Top Tips on Planning for a Waterbirth

  • If you are interested in having a waterbirth, research around it – we cover all forms of birth in our antenatal course and our midwives are big fans of waterbirths so always willing to answer questions and advise.
  • Discuss your plan for a waterbirth with your midwife – if you have any health conditions that may be a barrier, your midwife can advise and help you find the right support to plan the best birth for you.
  • If you’re planning a waterbirth at home, find out if you can hire a birth pool from your local hospital or if you need to arrange one privately. You can also look into buying a birth pool of your own – they become great paddling pools once they retire!
  • Also work out how you will fill and empty the pool at home and ask your midwife of what other kit might be needed – this is often a water thermometer, a handled mirror, a plastic sieve and lots of towels or bathmats to keep your floor dry.
  • If you’re planning on using a birth pool in the birth centre/hospital find out how many are available and if you need to let the staff know beforehand. They may need to just carry out some checks to make sure a water birth is a safe option for you.
  • Consider what you are going to wear – some like to be naked in labour, whilst others prefer to be covered up – a bra top, vest top or bikini top are ideal for water birth. Your partner may wish to have some ‘swimwear’ handy too in case they wish to jump in and join you!

Above all try to remember, this is a common way to birth. Midwives are well trained to help you give birth in water. So you’re in good hands, and you can relax and let the water help you along.