Diving Deeper: The Myths and Facts of Water Birth
In a birth center setting, women are free to birth in whatever way is most comfortable and preferable for them. One method used in alternative birthing that many women are curious about is water birth. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions surrounding the use of water during labor and birth. While anecdotal stories are helpful, it is important to fall back on evidence based information when making the decision on whether or not water birth is right for you.
1. Infection risk is higher with water.
This is untrue. As long as the water source is sanitary, laboring and birthing in water poses no more a risk than any other vaginal birth. The basis surrounding this myth is centered on the potential for the laboring mother to release stool into the water. While it is not uncommon for a woman to have stool come out in the water when the baby is descending and emerging, the rate of infection for water births are reported as less than .01 percent.
2. The risk of tearing is higher.
This assumption is based on the concept that water creates friction and allows the skin to tear more easily as the baby emerges. In reality, water allows the perineum to relax which reduces the overall likelihood of tearing. A woman laboring in water has more control over pushing and is able to allow the vagina to stretch slowly and eliminate the feeling of burning.
3. Birthing in water is more painful.
This could not be more untrue. When a laboring woman enters the water, the whole environment changes. When the woman enters the deep water of the birthing pool, oxytocin is released, which helps regulate contractions. The water environment is comforting and promotes deep relaxation for the laboring mother while triggering an endorphin release that assists in the progression of labor. Additionally, the buoyancy created by water allows the woman to move more easily and places her hips in the optimal position for the baby to descend the pelvis.
4. Babies will drown once they are born.
Babies are by nature, aquatic beings. In utero, they do not breathe; rather they swallow the fluid that they live in. Initially, the prostaglandin levels present in the placenta at birth keep the infant’s breathing muscles from activating. The fluid that is already in the fetal lungs prevents any more from entering at birth and the dive reflex in newborns keeps them from breathing in additional fluid. Birthing in water also creates an easier transition for the baby. Essentially, birthing in water allows the baby to go from a warm, wet, dark environment to a warm, wet, and slightly lighter environment. The mom can slowly ease the baby up out of the water after birth without shocking the infant to the outside.
5. Water birth is perfect for everyone.
While birthing in water is a great option for many women, it is definitely not for everyone. Water births are not recommended for women who plan on getting an epidural or other sedation. Women who are experiencing fever or infection or high blood pressure are also not good candidates for water birth. Lastly, if the baby is experiencing complications or has an atypical heartbeat, it is not a good idea to labor in water.