Water birth is both new and old when it comes to birthing practice, an ancient tradition which fell into disuse and is now being re-evaluated as it shows real, tangible benefits in helping ease and speed labour. There are even records of the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt being born in the water.
Water birth describes two different scenarios, the first being where a mother labours in the birth pool but then delivers the baby on dry land and the second being where the baby is born in the birth pool, and then lifted clear of the water to rest on the mother’s chest while the placenta is delivered. Both of these have been studied extensively and these scientific studies have shown that both forms of water birth are safe and are effective at reducing the need for additional pain management, speeding the progress of labour and reducing the likelihood of a tear and the need for caesarean sections.
Water births are very popular combined with home births, as they represent a pain management mechanism which is effective but does not require specialised medical supervision, which makes them ideal for use where other options such as epidurals and more effective analgesics are not possible, however the use of a birth pool has proven benefits in hospital settings as well, and more and more hospitals and birthing centres are including birth pools in the standard equipment added to labour suites during refurbishments, although usually they don’t have enough for everyone, and it’s impossible to book one in advance!
The main benefits of labouring in the birth pool stem from the combined impact of adrenaline and oxytocin on labour, in essence stress (linked to adrenaline) slows labour down and makes it more painful, and relaxing (linked to oxytocin) makes labour faster and easier – In essence the happier, more comfortable and more relaxed you are the easier birth you have. The mere presence of a birth pool changes the atmosphere of the room, with the water reflections making voices softer and less harsh, and helping create a calming atmosphere.
The choice to have a water birth and use the birth pool is a very empowering one, making the expectant mother feel more in control and more of an active participant rather than a passive one. This is a massive reducer of stress for the mother, and sets her mental framework in a positive manner for the rest of the birth. Even in further developments require her to leave the birth pool for her safety or that of her child that mental framework remains and helps to ease the birth.
Hot baths are relaxing, it’s something that we all know and love, so it comes as no surprise that a warm relaxing bath during labour in the form of the birth pool leaves the mother happier and in a more relaxed state than being strapped to a cold hospital bed with beeping monitors attached. As the medical profession comes to appreciate more and more the role that the mothers mental state has on the progress of labour the shift comes to start with the most relaxing state possible and only intervene when absolutely necessary.