In some parts of the world water births have been around for centuries. In the western world it wasn’t until the 1970s that healthcare professionals started looking at water births as a real option for mums-to-be.
Birthing pool is a relatively new concept in India.
If you would like to give birth in a special birthing pool in hospital, then you will need to talk to your doctor to see if this is an option that is available and if they would recommend this for you.
If a complete water birth isn’t possible, you may still be able to use a birth pool or a bath filled with warm water to relax you during the first stages of labour and then get out of the water to give birth.
Birth pools might be available in some hospitals in larger cities.
Mothers report that the warm water helps to ease the pain of contractions and that having a water birth makes you feel more relaxed and comfortable which results in calmer breathing rhythm. Studies have shown that the use of water as pain relief during labour has been found to reduce the need for epidurals as pain relief.*
Entonox (gas and air) is allowed during a water birth (the gas is too weak to make you feel so drowsy that you’d slip under the water). In a hospital gas and air is usually pumped into the delivery room or the birth pool room from a central supply. It can be brought to your home, in a cylinder.
Massage and breathing exercises are also fine during a water birth. You will not be allowed TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) as this is electrical and therefore not compatible with water. Nor would you be allowed pethidine, or other injectible drugs which could make you drowsy. An epidural, which involves a fine tube being inserted into your back is also not possible in the birthing pool.
Babies have a natural ‘dive reflex’ whereby they close their airway and do not take a breath while under water, so you need not worry she is going to swallow a big mouthful of your pool water as she emerges.
Babies born into warm water often appear far more relaxed and often don’t even cry until they are dried and air hits their cheeks. It is thought that the pool feels like the comforting waters of your womb to your baby. Supporters of birthing pools believe that the transition to the outside world is less traumatic for babies who are born in water.
Experts believe that babies are only at risk of inhaling water if:
Your doctor will know she needs to be careful as your baby is being born, so that she doesn't interfere with her dive reflex. She'll also guide you to make sure you don't bring your baby's head to the surface before the rest of her body is born.
There is no statistical evidence that there is any more risk of an infection with a water birth.
Hospitals are meticulous when cleaning pools after every water birth and do regular checks to ensure that the pool is left hygienic after use.
There are several reasons why you may have to give up on a water birth and resort to a conventional setting. If your contractions are too strong for you and the birthing pool is not making you relax then you may have to give it up and have another pain relief option such as TENS, pethidine or an epidural.
You may have complications. You will be asked to leave the pool if:
Remember your doctors are trained to deal with emergencies and will get you out of the pool quickly if necessary. In a hospital a bed will be ready for you in case you need it and have to give up your water birth plan.
Your doctor will also monitor your baby during your labour with a waterproof device to make sure she's getting enough oxygen and that it’s safe for you to continue in the water. Your doctor will monitor you throughout your time in the pool using all her experience as she watches you, talks to you and keeps an eye on your progress tone.
Your blood pressure and temperature will be checked regularly and you may have an internal examination. This can be done while you are in the water, or your doctor may ask to do one after you have been to the toilet, while you are out of the pool.
As the baby is lifted from the water by your doctor special care will be taken not to pull on the cord, just in case the cord is shorter than normal.
Some doctors have commented on how calm babies are after being born in water crying less than babies born in air, appearing more relaxed, eager to have eye contact with their mothers and to suckle.
Many hospitals and birth centres have a policy which requires the mum to get out of the pool for the delivery of the placenta, so if you may be asked to leave the pool for this stage.
*Source: Study by Cluett and Burns 2009