Throughout your pregnancy, something you’re bound to think about often is the actual ‘giving birth’ part. But how much thought have you given to exactly what type of birth you’d like? Water births are no longer just for the more ‘alternative‘ among us, but a real option chosen by thousands of women worldwide every year.
We talked to independent midwife, Eleanor May Johnson, about the pros and cons of giving birth in water and how to make it happen if you’ve decided a water birth is for you.
What are the pros of having a water birth?
Being in warm water can make it easier to deal with painful contractions. If you want strong pain relief such as an epidural then you will have to leave the pool but you can use gas and air to remove mild pain while still in the water.
Enhanced sense of privacy
Once you are in the warmth of the pool you can focus solely on the labour. Some women like to dim the lights and have the room as quiet as possible to calm them throughout the process.
The motion and temperature of the water can help you to relax throughout labour. Contractions may lose their rhythm if you become tense, so by remaining calm contractions may become less stressful for you and your baby. Being relaxed will also help you to breathe more slowly and calmly, further helping pain relief.
Women generally feel more comfortable, safer and more secure in water as it makes you feel lighter. It is also easy for you to move and switch positions until you find one that suits you best.
Peace of mind
For water births at home, you can have the pool delivered or assemble your own before your due date. You can check it works, make sure your boiler has enough water to heat it and even use it to relax.
Less traumatic for the baby
Some believe that water births are more peaceful for your baby. The reason is that the warm waters of the pool will be similar to those of your uterus (womb). Babies who are born in water are often more relaxed and cry less than those born in air.
Most women who have had water births say that it was a positive experience. Because of this they are also more likely to choose the method again if they have another child.
What are the cons of having a water birth?
During labour you can accidentally open your bowels as the baby is delivered. You may feel uncomfortable about your midwife having to remove these from the pool to keep it clean, but remember midwives are used to this.
There may be a risk of infection in a birthing pool if you open your bowels – although midwives usually remove any debris quickly and efficiently, it does introduce the possibility. However, there is no evidence to suggest any difference in rates of infection between women who give birth in water or in air, and the NHS has strict guidelines about cleaning pools after each use, making sure the pool is left hygienic.
If you have your heart set on a water birth at hospital rather than at home there is a chance it will not be available when you need it. The pool/s may be out of order, in use by another woman, there might be a fault with the electrics or they might not have enough staff.
Water births are one of the most expensive labour methods – hiring a pool can cost upwards of £400 or from £100 to buy a pool. Alternatively, you can use a birthing pool at hospital for free if your maternity ward has them.
Not enough pain relief
You may find that being in a birthing pool doesn’t make the contractions any less painful. Having to get in and out of the water for pain relief may just add more stress to the process.
You may have to stay out of the birthing pool if you develop any complications. Sometimes water births will only be allowed if the mother is considered low-risk. You will be asked to leave the pool if:
Planning a water birth
If you’ve decided you’d like to have a water birth, the first step is to talk to your midwife. They will be able to answer a number of questions including whether your hospital has a birth pool you can use as well as the hospital’s general feeling towards water births. Some hospitals are more keen to support water births than others so it’s a good idea to check this out at first.
If you want a home water birth you can either buy or hire an inflatable birth pool. Your midwife should be able to provide a list of water birth companies you could use. It’s also possible that the community midwifery team has a birth pool you can borrow.
Making sure you are eligible to have a water birth
You will need to check with your hospital if they are happy for you to have a water birth. Many have a list of criteria you will need to meet in order to use this labour method.
Usually healthy women, with straightforward pregnancies, who are giving birth after 37 weeks are fine.
It may be less safe for you to have a water birth if you have a medical condition or have had a difficult pregnancy. You may not be able to use a birth pool if:
Thinking about the pool
If you are buying or hiring your own, the size of the pool is extremely important – think about your height, how much space you have in your home, how heavy the pool will be, how much space inside the pool you will want, as well as whether you want a pool with a temperature regulator in it to keep it warm and ready for when you go into labour. You will need to check whether you have a big enough hot water supply and work out how long it will take to fill it up from empty.
Finding out more
You may already know someone who has had a water birth so you could ask them about their experience. Alternatively a good place to find out more about water births is at your antenatal classes. When booking a class ask whether water births is one of the topics they cover. There is also a large selection of books covering water birth you can buy to give you more information.