Many of us have heard about it, as it is becoming more and more popular among today's young mothers, but how much do we really know about it? The act of giving birth under water has been praised by some as being the most peaceful, and natural form child delivery one can experience, reducing stress and trauma for both mother and child. But how does the medical community feel about it? What are the risk factors involved? And finally, do the benefits outweigh any of the dangers that delivering a child unconventionally may pose?
Before answering these questions, let's learn more about the water birth experience, and what it entails.
The water birth process is actually quite simple and straightforward. When the mother begins labor she is helped into a pool or tub filled with warm water either by a mid-wife or a labor partner of some sort. The temperature of the water should be the same as her body, or close to that. (i.e. 90 to 100 degrees) At the point of actual delivery, the mother may have her child emerge in or out of the water. However, this decision should be made before hand to ensure that things move along at a smooth and steady pace. Babies born entirely underwater are able to wait to breathe in until they reach the surface because of their familiarity with the womb's fluid state. Essentially, they are surviving on the remaining oxygen that has been provided for them through the umbilical chord for the past 9 months. However, it is unclear just how long after exiting the womb the chord continues to provide sufficient life support. Doctors say that even the continued pumping motion in the chord is no guarantee that the child is still receiving what he/she needs to survive underwater.
This brings us back to our previous questions. Just how does the medical community view water birth?
As a general rule, the medical community is not on board with the idea of bringing your child into the world under water, whether it be at home in your bathroom or a in a hospital basin.
Dr. Daniel Batton, a member of the Committee on the Fetus and Newborn of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently shared his medical opinion in a co-authored commentary published by Pediatrics that underwater deliveries were unsafe due to a "lack of proper randomized, controlled trials" proving otherwise.
The commentary goes on to say that, "although underwater birth was associated with a decreased need for episiotomies and pain medication as well as higher Apgar scores and less cord blood acidosis in newborns, the birthing method was determined by maternal preference, and potential confounding variables were not analyzed. Over the last several years, numerous case reports have associated underwater birth with respiratory distress, hyponatremia, infections, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, ruptured umbilical cords, seizures, tachycardia and fever (related to water temperature of the bath), and near drownings in newborns or fetuses."
When asked to defend his and his colleagues stance on the matter, Dr. Batton simply asked that those defending the underwater birthing method provide conclusive, scientifically based evidence that the infant in not in any danger during the process, and more preferably, that this experience is actually beneficial to the child as many claim.
None have met his challenge as of yet, other than to offer up more testimonials from mothers and mid-wives. However, that is not to say that there will not studies in the future which support the idea that delivering a child into a familiar substance is as safe as, and even preferable to a traditional delivery.
For more information for and against water births check out the following articles:
'Underwater Births' - Pediatrics original commentary
'Strong Opinions vs. Science' - A letter to the editor of Pediatrics concerning the bias/unfair evaluation of underwater birth plus responses by some of the physicians.
'Water Birth' - A comprehensive list of the benefits believed to accompany an underwater birth, as well as a list of guidelines and cautions when considering it for yourself and your child.
This blog post was provided by Stephanie Parker - our blog writer extraordinaire!