This is a comment I still hear lamented in a birthing suite by Doctors and Midwives in spite of the research and evidence documented for years now (by experts like Michel Odent and Barbara Harper).
Waterbirth is simple, yet the birth of a baby in water brings a complexity of questions, choices, opinions, research data, hospital policies, women’s experiences and practitioner’s observations.
So, is water birth just for dolphins and whales?
The fear of all skeptics is that the baby will breath or gasp at the time of birth thus inhaling the water into its lungs.
The simple fact is: babies cannot breathe or inhale water at the time of birth due to at least 4 inhibitory factors present in newborns. The most common factor explained is the “Dive Reflex”.
The “Dive Reflex” is associated with the larynx. The larynx is covered with numerous taste buds and when a solution hits the back of the throat, the taste buds interpret what substance it is and the glottis automatically closes.
The solution is swallowed and NOT inhaled. This reflex was designed to help newborns breastfeed and it is present for 6-8 months after which it mysteriously disappears.
I personally have attended over 450 water births without complications.
There is an “ahhhh factor” as women in labour slip into the warm deep water and feel an immediate release of tension letting out an audible sign.
The following are benefits of deep water immersion in labour and birth in water that I have both researched and observed:
- The relief of tension from the lower abdomen and back is immediate
- It speeds up labour as the woman relaxes, focuses and surrenders
- It gives the mother a feeling of control
- It reduces blood pressure
- It allows the mother to change positions, and remain upright effortlessly
- It helps the perineum soften, relax, and stretch thus reducing tearing
- It reduces the incidence of interventions such as vaginal examinations, drugs, forceps, vacuum extraction and definitely caesareans
- Women feel safe and more in control
- It is highly rated by mothers and water birth competent midwives
- It gives the mother and partner the opportunity to receive the baby themselves as the birth does not need to be “managed”
As a midwife, I find that water birth is an incredible experience for mothers and their partners.
I never tire of seeing the ecstatic joy on their faces as they receive their baby and watch the baby gaze into their eyes for the first time.
It is truly a moment of surreal emotion.
Of course water birth is not for everyone, and most women don’t know whether they want to birth in water until they experience labour, but the choice should be there wherever a woman chooses to birth.
Women should ensure that they have an experienced and competent midwife present for a waterbirth, as they will monitor whether it is safe to be in or out of the pool.
Some women have risk factors in pregnancy for which water birth is not an option and this should be discussed with their midwife.
At the end of the day, water birth is a truly natural option to be considered and explored when planning to have the best birthing experience possible.
What about you. Have you had a water birth or are you considering one? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.