Water birth safety

Some of my friends are excited about the idea of a water birth. However I am skeptical, as I am afraid of the idea of my baby drowning. Is this a realistic fear?

The concept of water birth is not as new as you might think – in fact the first research was done in Russia in the 1960’s. This work was taken up and popularized by Michel Odent in France in the 1970’s, and the rise in popularity of the concept was what led to research in the safety of water births.

So you will be relieved to hear of a comprehensive study , published in the British Medical Journal, which was done in UK in 1999 which showed that the safety of water births was in line with the safety of low risk vaginal births overall. None of the deaths of the babies which occurred could be linked to water births, and were due to other causes. Although the authors were cautious about this outcome, it did seem to show that fewer babies born by water birth needed special care after the birth than those born on land.

The idea that you baby might take the first breathe while under water is not an illogical fear. It seems to make sense, but luckily, there is hard fact to show that this is unlikely. The factor most likely to trigger breathing is the drop in temperature experienced by the face of the baby as it emerges from the vagina. So keeping the temperature of the pool at body temperature or slightly above is a very good method to prevent the first breathe being taken under water. An experienced midwife will gently lift the baby through the water so that within around 10 seconds the baby’s face has emerged from the water.

In addition there are other factors that prevent the baby from breathing under water. As long as the placenta and the umbilical cord are still in place, the baby experiences hormones which inhibit breathing. Also, the baby has a strong reflex to shut the larynx as soon as fresh water touches the baby’s mouth.

The baby could start to breathe if handled too much during the labour. Thus water birth midwives will know how to assist the birth without stimulating the baby, and then to bring the baby up to the surface in a gentle movement. In addition a baby who was struggling to get enough oxygen during the labour, may begin to breathe very quickly. This is why the monitoring of the foetal heartbeat during labour is critical during a water birth. If there are any signs that the baby is in distress, it is imperative that you be prepared to leave the water as directed by the midwife, as a land birth will be safer for your baby in this situation.

The benefits of a water birth, if you have access to such a facility, are numerous and generally highly beneficial to both mother and baby. For this reason if the option is open to you and you feel positive about the idea, then it is an option worth exploring.

See also:
Water birth – Benefits
Water birth – Dangers +27 (0)81 885 4683 

*Important : The information provided is for information purposes only. No medical diagnosis or prescription can be inferred or is implied. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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