Written by Karen McEvoy Shields, C.N.M., M.S.N
More women are choosing to give birth to their babies in water. Waterbirth is not a new idea in childbirth. Women have been using water to ease discomfort and increase relaxation during labor and birth since early civilization. Barbara Harper, (2005) in Gentle Birth Choices, talks about the first recorded modern waterbirth that took place in France in 1803. It is reported in detail in a French medical journal, that a woman who had been laboring for forty-eight hours went into a warm bath to ease the discomfort from her labor that was not progressing. Soon after relaxing in the water, the baby was born. She did not have time to leave the bath.
Waterbirth found its way to the United States a little over 22 years ago. In 1998 waterbirth International was formed to meet the need for up to date and accurate information regarding the use of water in labor and birth. Barbara Harper’s personal experience with waterbirth helped her decide to create Waterbirth International with the goal that she continues to work toward today “to make waterbirth an available option for all women.” Barbara also states that “option is the key word in knowing that this method of birth is not for every woman, but every woman should be given an informed choice of whether it makes sense for her”.
In the early 2000’s while practicing midwifery at Bridgeton Hospital I started having women request waterbirth. We had been very successful in offering women the choice of a “drug free birth” by using warm tubs for easing pain and deepening relaxation in labor. However, laboring women would have to leave the tub to give birth. I found many women pleading with me to let them stay in the tub. Unfortunately, the tub was not large enough for birth, and hospital protocols did not allow for the option of waterbirth.
The administration at Inspira Health Network was very receptive to my request to offer women in southern New Jersey the choice of waterbirth. With the opening of Inspira Medical Center Elmer in the fall of 2003, and it’s “water birth room” with a tub designed especially for birth, and the development of specific waterbirth protocols, I have been able to offer low risk women the choice of waterbirth in a hospital setting.
Known Benefits of Water labor and Waterbirth:
- Facilitates mobility and enables the mother to assume any position which is comfortable for labor and birth
- Speeds up labor
- Reduces blood pressure
- Gives mother more feeling of control
- Provides significant pain relief
- Promotes relaxation
- Conserves her energy
- Reduces the need for drugs and intervention
- Gives mother a private protected space
- Reduces perineal trauma and eliminates episiotomies
- Reduces cesarean rates
- Is highly rated by mothers – typically stating they would consider giving birth in water again
- Is highly rated by experienced providers
- Encourages an easier birth for mother and a gentler welcome for baby