One of my t-shirts states: "Water Birth Isn't Just for Mermaids". While that is true, it may or may not be the right choice for every woman.
Common reasons that women may choose to labor in water include:
While laboring in water doesn't guarantee you a pain-free labor, it can help to take the edge off. Sinking into a deep pool designed for laboring in water gives the mother a small, private space in which to relax. Some midwives report seeing fewer lacerations in the water however, the study of water births attended by CPMs in North American showed a small increase in perineal lacerations (vaginal tearing) when the mother birthed in water.
Some things to be aware of: sometimes babies born in the water take an extra moment to transition and may not cry right away. Purple is a normal color for a baby who has not taken a breath yet; when baby does take a breath you will see baby's color transition to pink. Studies have not shown an increase in infection for baby's born in water. It is believed that air hitting the baby's face will stimulate baby to breathe and that babies will not try to breathe until then, but to be conservative the midwife likes baby to be gently brought up out of the water immediately. The midwife may ask a mother to get out of the water in cases of possible fetal distress or if there is difficulty assessing blood loss following the birth.
Concerns about infection due to the water birth have been brought up with the recent headlines about a baby dying of Legionnaire's Disease after a water birth. Our practice has chosen to adopt the recommendations of the National Health Service in England. We do not use pools which are filled in advance or spa pools that circulate the water. A brand-new liner and lead-free hose are used for each birth and the pool is not filled until the mother is in active labor.
For more information, visit Comprehensive Review Affirms Safety of Waterbirth or talk to your care provider.
(updated November 2017 to better reflect current research)
Michelle Ingram, CPM, CDEM