So you’re thinking about having a Waterbirth. That’s great news, childbirth in warm water can be the most relaxing, empowering and gratifying experience. We’ll go through all the benefits and the contraindications of laboring and giving birth in water. Water babies are the most relaxed of all newborns in my experience.
Remember, as with all labors, you'll need to be keeping well hydrated if you go for a Waterbirth. Keep a jug of cool water nearby and get your labor support person to keep it topped up and to keep plying you with glasses of water or fruit juice.
Who Can Have a Waterbirth or Labor in a Birthing Pool?
Any healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Usually this means you are expecting one baby not twins. Twins and breech babies can be born in the pool but it's quite unusual. It can be hard to find a health professional who is relaxed about this sort of situation.
Benefits of Waterbirth
* Once in the water you are in your own protected space.
* It's easier to relax and follow your instincts.
* You can stay mobile and change positions easily.
* The water supports your weight and helps you to float.
* Water can reduce your blood pressure.
* It can help release natural endorphins.
* Your baby will be more relaxed and calm before and after birth.
* Your baby has an easier gentle transition from your womb to the outside world of water that is weightless, warm and soft.
* You can stay in the water after the baby is born and remain attached by the umbilical cord with no pressure of time if everything else is fine.
* You can enjoy breastfeeding your newborn baby before you leave the water.
* The pain of labor contractions is at least half of that out of water, i.e. on dry land!
* Ask anyone who's experienced a Waterbirth, the benefits are endless....
How Is My Baby Monitored In Labor?
During labor your midwife will monitor your baby's heart rate using an underwater Doppler (fetal heart monitor). Sometimes you’ll be asked to lift your bump out of the water just enough so that your midwife can use her Pinard Stethescope or regular Doppler. If there are any concerns about your or your baby's wellbeing you will be asked to leave the pool.
This will depend on where you are! If you're having a Homebirth then you’re free to get in whenever you want. However your midwife will advise you if it’s too early to get in the water. If you‘re in a Maternity Hospital or Birth Center then you will most likely have to follow their policies and procedures. This can often mean waiting until you have reached 4 -5 cms dilation.
Having the pool or tub full and heated up is great in early labor. You may want to get in and out of the pool quite a lot for different reasons. In the very early stages of labor the warm water can help you to relax and ‘let go’ and also relieve any backache.
Generally midwives will advise you to stay active by walking around and moving in early labor. An ideal time to enter the pool is once you get to about 5cm dilated. This is because you’ll be well established in labor. Sometimes if you get into the water too early your labor can stop completely! If this happens don’t worry – just hop out of the pool, get dried off and start moving again.
What If I Want More Pain Relief?
Warm water can just about halve the amount of strong sensations you’ll feel from the rushes or contractions of labor. If you need something else, then Gas and Air (Entonox) is a good choice. If you have an acupuncturist or other practitioner with you then they can easily carry on giving you treatments while you move about in the birth pool. Homeopathy is even easier as you just take the remedies under your tongue.
If all of these methods aren’t enough then your midwife will examine you – usually with an abdominal palpation and an internal exam – and see if you need something stronger like an epidural. If this turns out to be the case then you’ll need to leave the water birth idea behind.
If you do spend several hours laboring in water and then decide to get out and have an epidural or other injectable analgesia you haven't been wasting your time. Laboring in water is very beneficial and will have helped your labor immensely.
Can I Have An Internal Exam In The Water?
Yes if your midwife is experienced and willing to do this there is no medical reason why you can’t have your vaginal examination while you are in the pool. Your midwife will ask you to take up a position to help facilitate this. It also depends how large and deep the pool is; your midwife doesn’t want to end up in the water or soaked through either!
If she hasn’t done many internal exams for women labouring in water then it is quite reasonable for her to request that you come out onto ‘dry land’ to be examined. If you need it you can use Gas and Air (Entonox) while you’re out of the water. Any examination is important so needs to be done in a way that gives accurate information. Unnecessary examinations should be avoided.
What Temperature Does The Water Need To Be?
In the first stage of labor the water temperature needs to be comfortable for you. This is usually between 35 – 37 degrees Celcius approximately. Once you’re in second stage and getting close to the birth your midwife or partner will monitor the water temperature more often and keep it up around body temperature (37.5 degrees C). There is a bit of discussion around this but the main thing to remember is that the baby needs to avoid any sudden changes in temperature. Therefore it’s important to check the water temperature often.
If you’re using a birth pool your midwife will check both the temperature of the water and your body temperature to make sure that you’re comfortable and not becoming over-heated.
These are some contraindications for water birth.
• your labor is progressing very slowly or appears to have stopped.
• you start bleeding during labor
• your pulse or blood pressure goes up above an acceptable/safe level
• your baby's first poop (meconium) is detected in your waters
• the pool water gets very murky and hard to see through.
• you feel faint or drowsy
• your baby's heartbeat show's signs of fetal distress
Here are a couple of amazingly informative childbirth videos about Hypnobirthing and Waterbirth. The second one has a very short history of pain relief in labor. It includes several waterbirths and women in second stage of labor in the birth pool. They are totally calm, relaxed and aware. The first one has the baby being born "In the Caul" which is said to bring good luck and protection from drowning to the baby.
If you're planning a Home Waterbirth, then it's a great idea to hire the Birthing pool three or four weeks ahead of your due date. It can be filled up and used for floating in after work, or with your partner and other kids. It's a wonderful way to relieve backache.
After the birth: once the pool has been cleaned it can be refilled the next day or whenever you want and used as a relaxing giant bath tub. Waterbirth babies love to be in warm water (body temperature of course). Make sure you don't add any bath products or aromatherapy oils to the water as newborn baby's skin is extremely sensitive.
There are so many other aspects to Waterbirth that we can’t fit it all onto this page. If you’d like more information go to A.I.M.S. Waterbirth Info for a more in-depth look at laboring and birthing in water. Another excellent website to check out is Waterbirth International.
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