My birth experience with my second child was a powerful and affirming experience, and I credit that largely to being able to have a hospital water birth. For me, it was the best of both worlds: the calm, gentle experience of having a baby in a relaxing environment, with the knowledge emergency care was available at all times should it be needed for either myself or my baby.
Why a Water Birth?
While a water birth might sound unusual to some, but it’s actually a really optimal way to give birth in many regards. According to the Cochrane review, early labor is shortened while laboring in water to about half an hour less, and those who opted for water birth had a greatly reduced incidence of any need for episiotomy as well as usage of pain medication.
There are a lot of benefits to water birth: the warm water is soothing and relaxing during contractions, it allows freedom of movement and added bonus of buoyancy, and provides a calm and quiet environment during labor. I was fortunate to be able to experience all of these elements.
After having an epidural with my first child, I knew I wanted something different for my second birth—I tried to prepare for an unmedicated birth by reading books, listening to positive birth stories, and learning hypnobirthing exercises. I would personally recommend some of these “advance planning” measures if possible, as well as having your partner be informed about water birth.
What My Water Birth Was Like
Even though I was in the clinical setting of a hospital, I felt as if I might have been at home, at a birthing center, or even a private swimming pool during labor. The birthing pools at hospitals are typically made specifically for birth, so they have enough space and the water is kept at a warm temperature.
The lights were dimmed, the only monitoring I needed to have was an occasional strap on my belly to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, and my husband and I were given our privacy with the midwife on hand whenever we needed her there. Some women opt to have nitrous oxide (laughing gas) during labor in the birthing pool, but that is typically one of the only pain relief measures allowed during water birth. However, I truly found that the water and the freedom of movement, combined with the preparatory hypnobirthing and relaxing mantras I had practiced beforehand, were all that was required. When my son was born, it was such a beautiful moment to have him glide through the water and have him placed into my arms for our first minutes of bonding. I felt so calm and happy as I held him close to me in the warm water.
At my hospital, I was required to exit the tub for my placenta delivery. Two midwives assisted me in exiting the tub and checked to see if stitches were needed. As one might imagine, if stitches are needed, they are done outside of the water. All things considered, I felt great after my water birth. I was able to walk around and take a shower within a few hours.
Is a Water Birth Right for You?
There are some contraindications to having a hospital water birth: For example, if the mother is running a fever, there are issues with the fetal heartbeat, there are known risks of skin infections or excessive bleeding, most hospitals would not permit the actual birth to take place in the water. Also, hospitals will not allow water birth for premature babies born before 37 weeks gestation.
It’s also worth noting that finding a hospital that offers hospital water birth in the U.S. may be tricky. Many US hospitals will allow mothers to labor in the water, but not actually give birth in it. This is a big contrast to other countries, such as Germany, where between 30-50% of hospitals offer water birth facilities not just for labor, but birth as well. Therefore, if you’re in the US and are looking to do a hospital water birth, it’s worth investigating early on to see if your local facilities offer the option. Another alternative for US parents to look into is birth centers attached to a hospital that might offer water birth with the security of a hospital on the premises.
Every woman is different. I’ve certainly spoken to other mothers who tried laboring in water and were not fans of the experience. Other women enjoy laboring in the water, but prefer to deliver “on land” for the pushing stage.
I do strongly believe, though, that it is your right as a pregnant woman to know your possible options for giving birth, and although hospital water birth isn’t necessarily as well-known than many other ways of giving birth, it’s a valid one and can be an incredibly empowering experience. If you are interested in a water birth, but still want the comfort and safety of a hospital birth, speak to your provider about if a hospital water birth might be an option for you.
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