Many women who've had a waterbirth rave about the benefits of labouring and giving birth in water and would jump at the opportunity to have another one. There are glowing testimonials out there summarizing the positive birthing experiences that many women have had in water. Women considering a waterbirth will be happy to know that, on top of all these positive personal accounts, there is also evidence-based research that supports a number of benefits for women labouring and/or delivering their babies in water. Here are a few for your review!
Evidence-Based Benefits of Waterbirth
1. Waterbirth decreases pain perception during labor
Many women want to have a drug-free birth and one of the main considerations, when deciding to take the natural route, is to determine which tools can be used to manage discomfort or pain in labor. Consequently, some will enlist the help of a doula, TENS machine, Hypnobirthing® techniques, etc. to increase their levels of comfort during labor. One recent study found that women who had water births reported less pain than women who gave birth out of water, including those that had epidurals. Waterbirth has also been shown to reduce the need for pain medication. For women hoping to have a drug-free birth, the evidence is reassuring.
2. Waterbirth decreases the use of episiotomy and the likelihood of severe perineal tears
Most, if not all, expectant women wish to avoid injury to the perineum during childbirth. Some will use preventative measures, such as perineal massage in pregnancy, to reduce the chance of trauma to the perineal area during delivery. Studies show that waterbirth can increase a woman's chance of having an intact perineum during the delivery of her baby. Episiotomies are more detrimental to women than naturally occurring tears and are indicated for use in urgent/emergency circumstances only. Waterbirth decreases the likelihood of being subjected to an episiotomy. Like episiotomies, third and fourth degree tears contribute to a longer postpartum recovery period for the mother; they may also, in certain cases, lead to long-term health complications such as chronic perineal pain and fecal incontinence. Current evidence reveals that the incidence of third and fourth degree tears are lower when birth occurs in water than when it occurs on land.
3. Waterbirth increases the likelihood of a hands-off delivery
Women who are interested in having the most naturally occurring delivery they can, with as little manual intervention as possible, may be excited to learn that waterbirth increases the chances of having a hands-off delivery. A hands-off delivery refers to one that occurs without manual support/facilitation of the baby's head, by the attending clinician, as it emerges. This allows for the delivery to unfold as naturally as possible, without added external intervention. There is evidence to suggest that the majority of women delivering in water will experience a hands-off delivery.
4. Waterbirth is safe for healthy, low-risk pregnancies
Despite the opinion that the practice of giving birth in water has no benefit and is potentially unsafe, a belief still held by some medical care providers, this opinion is not supported by present findings. Midwives are specially trained to assist and monitor low-risk clients desiring a natural birth. Primary healthcare providers attending water births should be comfortable and experienced in supporting birth in water, just as medical practitioners should be at ease and trained to assist in any medical intervention they perform on land. Women should continue to discuss the potential risks associated with any method of birthing with their primary care provider to ensure they are good candidates for their chosen approach. Overall, in low-risk pregnancies, waterbirth has been found to pose no greater risk to the well-being of mother or baby than birth occurring on land. Consequently, these findings indicate that waterbirth should become (if it isn't already) and continue to be an available option for women desiring a natural birth. Research shows that newborns fare just as well as land-born babies, if not better, when birth takes place in water.
5. Waterbirth has a high satisfaction rate
Over 70% of women who had water births, according to one study, would choose waterbirth again; this compares to less than 10% of those who would elect to give birth again, in the same manner, after giving birth on land. Some of the words women have used to describe birthing in water and their overall birth experiences are relaxing, fulfilling, liberating, calming, and soothing. There is, however, one aspect of waterbirth that many women collectively praise and that is given to the sanctuary it seems to provide when the new mother receives her baby upon delivery. For a considerable number of women, the most memorable detail of their waterbirth was being left undisturbed to meet and bond with their new arrival in that shortly-lived, once in a lifetime moment.
The evidence on waterbirth
General information on waterbirth
Science and safety of waterbirth
Debating which birth tub to have for your own waterbirth? Check out our post on the Birth Pool In A Box.