Water has many soothing benefits and has been shown to calm and comfort — even during labor and delivery.
Often called a "gentle birth," waterbirth is a safe option for both mothers and babies. It has steadily gained popularity in recent years, as many women have found they prefer the calming effects of warm water to a traditional, "land" birth.
Watch a video about waterbirth, showcasing the new waterbirth suite at St. John's.
Waterbirth is offered at these HealthEast hospitals:
What is a waterbirth?
During a waterbirth, the mother gives birth in water in a birthing tub. She may also spend part of her labor in the tub. This special tub is larger and deeper than a regular bathtub, deep enough for water to cover the mother's abdomen. It allows the mother to try a variety of different positions during labor and delivery. The baby emerges into the warm water before being brought out to take a first breath of air.
One common question is, "Doesn't the baby try to breathe under water?" Actually, babies start breathing when they feel the cool, dry air. The baby goes from the fluid in the womb, into the warm water of the tub. The baby is then gently brought out of the water. The mother can hold the baby immediately. After being brought out of the water, the baby takes a first breath of air. The umbilical cord is still attached and the baby continues to get oxygen through the cord.
Many women who've chosen waterbirth have experienced the following benefits:
- A birth that is as safe as a land birth
- Reduced pain and increased support to tense muscles
- Increased comfort and relaxation
- Decreased adrenaline production, allowing for a shorter labor
- Ease of movement during labor and delivery
- Reduced pressure on the abdomen, better blood circulation and more oxygen to the mother and baby due to the buoyancy of the water
- Increased sense of independence, power and autonomy during labor and delivery
- Reduced need for medical intervention and pain medication
- Reduced rate of Cesarean section
- Reduced rate of episiotomy, as water relaxes the pelvic floor muscles
- Father/partner may take a more active role in the birth experience
Advantages for baby may include:
- An easier, more gentle transition from mother's womb to an external "womb" of water that is weightless, warm, wet and soft
- More blood flow to the baby due to better circulation of the mother
- Babies have been noted to cry less, and are calmer and more alert after the birth
- Cord cutting after birth is delayed until it stops pulsating, allowing a continuous oxygen flow to baby
- Moms have reported better initial breastfeeding
During a waterbirth
The water temperature is kept between 95 and 100 degrees F. Staying in the water for too long (more than two hours at a time) or getting in the tub too early may slow labor down. Therefore, it is recommended that you not get into the tub until you have reached about five centimeters in cervical dilatation.
You may be asked to leave the tub under the following circumstances:
- You become light-headed, dizzy or extremely fatigued
- The baby is experiencing distress
- There is a need to monitor the baby with the electronic fetal monitor (if telemetry is not available)
- Your temperature is above 100.4 degrees F
- The amniotic fluid is meconium stained
- For the birth of the placenta
- For suturing, if needed
- To evaluate blood loss
- If the midwife/physician determines there is a concern for the well-being of you or your baby
Considering a waterbirth?
When choosing a waterbirth, it's important to discuss your decision with your provider and meet the criteria listed below. Not all providers include waterbirth in their practice, so it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife about it early in your pregnancy.
If you plan to have a waterbirth, you will have some additional lab work done, including testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. You will also be asked to read the waterbirth information sheet and sign a consent form.
When considering a waterbirth, an expectant mother must:
- Have a low-risk pregnancy
- Have no medical conditions such as hypertension or a maternal infection
- Have a pre-pregnant maternal weight that meets criteria for BMI and have a normal pregnancy weight gain
- Not have had a previous Cesarean section
- Be pregnant with only one baby (not twins or more)
- Be 37 to 42 weeks gestation
- Have a fetal heart rate that is reassuring
- Have clear amniotic fluid (no meconium)
- Have a baby in a head-down position (not breech)
- A normal placenta (no known placental abnormalities)
- Have a baby expected to be normal size (not low birth weight or excessive birth weight, which could increase the likelihood of a difficult birth)
- Not have had other past pregnancies, labor or birth complications that could complicate the waterbirth
To make an appointment with a midwife
To schedule an appointment with the HealthEast Nurse-Midwives, call their appointment line at 651-232-0005. They are currently seeing women at the following HealthEast clinics: