Why is water so great?
It eases the pain. Warm water is so effective in reducing the pain of labor that many midwives refer to it as “the natural birth epidural.” Water encourages the production of endorphins, nature’s own painkillers. Endorphins produce a sense of well-being which helps you tolerate the physical pain and stops you from feeling overwhelmed by the experience. As one mother said: “When I got into the water, it seemed like contractions had stopped. I realized after a while that they hadn’t, they were just so much more manageable. It eased the pain so much.”
It helps you relax. Warm water relaxes you and your muscles, and relaxation is key to lessening pain and having a great birth experience. Because water relaxes pelvic floor muscles, it is easier for the baby to pass through the birth canal, which may shorten labor.
It frees you from gravity and allows you to adopt the best laboring position. The sheer bulkiness of being nine months pregnant can makes it difficult to adopt different positions on dry land. Water erases the force of gravity and makes it easier to move and change positions. Your muscles don’t have to support your body so it is less tiring and easier to stay in a comfortable position.
It reduces the chance of fetal distress. The key to avoiding fetal distress is ensuring plenty of oxygen gets to the uterus. Laboring in water helps to maximize the oxygenated blood supply to the uterus in several ways:
- The muscles you normally use to maintain your posture against gravity don’t have to work so hard in water, so more oxygenated blood is available for the uterus.
- The water’s buoyancy enables you to lie down without the weight of the pregnant uterus obstructing the heart’s blood vessels. This results in blood flowing more freely into the uterus.
- Less energy and oxygen is needed to maintain body temperature and more is available for the uterus.
- When you are relaxed in water you release fewer stress hormones. Less stress means less blood is diverted to ‘fight or flight’ muscles, and more is available to the uterus.
Won’t the baby drown?
No. Babies have chemoreceptors around their mouth which initiate the normal breathing response at birth. These chemoreceptors are only activated by contact with air. Even with a delay between the birth of the head and the body, the baby will not breathe while under water. In addition, the umbilical cord is still supplying all the oxygen the baby needs, just as it did in utero. Of course, if the baby is kept under water for an extended period after it is born, eventually the placenta will stop functioning and the baby will gasp for air, even without chemoreceptor stimulation. So babies should always be brought to the surface immediately after birth. As long as they are, there is no danger of drowning. Of course, if you’re still concerned, you can always leave the tub to deliver the baby. You’ll still have benefitted from using the water for your labor.
What about infection?
Studies have shown there is no increased infection risk when women labor or birth in water, even if their bag of waters has broken.