The Wisdom of Water Birth

When a laboring woman steps into the birth tub the atmosphere changes, voices quiet and the softness of her body is noticeable.

Midwives have known for decades that warm water is one of the most powerful tools we have in reducing pain and tension in child birth. And yet, in the medical model of care, we are still seeing fear and resistance to letting women soak their bodies in water during labor and birth.

Recently, I was in Indonesia meeting with an Obstetrician and his group of students at a local hospital. We were discussing the differences between maternity care in the U.S. verses Indonesia. He asked, somewhat startled, “You don’t do water birth do you?” I replied, “Of course, more than half of the births I attend are water births.” His jaw dropped a little and he said, “You let babies eat their mom’s poop!” The table erupted in laughter. It was funny, but it also reflected that the medical world is still in the dark about the safety and benefits of hydrotherapy in birth.

The majority of hospitals in California will allow a laboring Mama to get in the shower for short periods between of time while being connected to a hospital bed for electronic fetal monitoring. Rarely are you able to be in active labor in the shower, and if you are blessed to find a hospital that offers a birthing tub, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to birth in it.

Midwives are skillfully trained in the art of monitoring fetal heart tones in any position, in any room. We use water proof hand held dopplers which allows us to keep a close eye (or ear) on your baby while you are in the tub.

There are many myths revolving around the risks of water birth. The primary myth is that the baby will take a breath underwater and aspirate fluid into the lungs. Rather, a healthy baby that has been thriving during labor and born into the water will be perfectly safe and will not inhale water due to the design of their throat. The larynx has 5 times more taste buds then the tongue does, which allows it to interpret solutions as they hit the back of the throat. As the solution passes the larynx the taste buds will signal the glottis to automatically close, while at the same time swallowing anything in the mouth. This automatic response is called the Dive Reflex. All healthy active babies have one. Indeed, it is believed that infants are born with this reflex so that they can easily breastfeed and not inhale milk.

Midwives have known about the wisdom of water for a long time. By facilitating mobility and reducing stress related hormones, while at the same time increasing endorphins (which neutralize pain and encourage a trance like state during labor), midwives have have seen and experienced the following benefits of water birth:

•  Enables the mother to assume any position which is comfortable for labor and birth
•  Speeds up labor
•  Reduces blood pressure
•  Gives mother more control of body
•  Provides significant pain relief
•  Promotes relaxation
•  Conserves her energy
•  Reduces the need for drugs
•  Gives mother a private and protected space
• Causes the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, reducing the incidence and severity of tearing and the need for an episiotomy and stitches
•  Reduces cesarean section rates and transports to the hospital for pain management
•  Encourages an easier birth for mother and a gentler welcome for baby

It is a common belief that because babies have been happily floating in warm water for the last 40 weeks or so that birthing a baby into the water ensures a smooth and gentle transition into life with gravity. These babies are less likely to be stressed by a harsh environment. They are more likely to be born into their Mama’s hands, quietly, gently, and peacefully.

Of course, there are situations that are not ideal for a water birth. Each mama and each baby are different and require individualized care to create a birth plan for you.

For more information about water birth or the benefits of laboring in water, contact Napa Valley Midwives. We are more then happy to discuss your birthing options!
Love, Bee Lauher, LM, CPM