I am never one to tell a mother how she should or should not birth her baby. Birth choices are extremely personal, and are based on many complex factors – including, of course, the health and well-being of the mother and child.
But for me, one of the best birthing choices I made was to deliver my first child in a big ol’ tub of water. Yes, it was carefully monitored by my two experienced, certified midwives, and yes, it was determined that I was of low-risk, and eligible for a water birth.
I wasn’t even entirely sure that I would end up birthing my son in the tub, but when I was in active labor and looking for something – anything – to take the edge off, I hopped into the pool, and it was like magic. I’m not saying the pain was gone once I got in, but it took the edge off in a major way, and is one of the main reasons I was able to pull off a completely drug-free birth.
That’s why I was kind of perplexed a couple years later when two major medical organizations – the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – put out a joint statement advising quite strongly against water birth.
As the 2016 statement reads: “There are insufficient data on which to draw conclusions regarding the relative benefits and risks of immersion in water during the second stage of labor and delivery. Therefore, until such data are available, it is the recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that birth occur on land, not in water.”
It should be noted that they are talking specifically here about the actual birthing of the baby (that’s the second stage of labor), and not necessarily the part before you push the baby out. And AAP and ACOG do say in this statement that women who inquire about water birth should be informed of the risks, and that facilities should take proper precautions to make water birth is as safe as possible for women.
But the statement definitely does make water birth sound like a less viable option for mothers. And for the many women who had a positive experience with water birth – or who may have wanted to have this option in the future — a statement like this was discouraging, to say the least.
Well, it looks like doctors and researchers were as perplexed and discouraged as I was, and decided to see if they could determine if there actually was sufficient evidence regarding the safety and benefits of water birth. And good news: they delivered (pun intended!).
A new study, released this past May and reported by the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, has concluded that there is indeed sufficient evidence that giving birth in water is safe for moms and babies, and that it has the added benefit of reducing a mom’s need for an epidural (if that is a goal of hers, of course).
The research team was comprised of doctors from the University of Southampton in the UK. They reviewed 15 studies involving the effects of water immersion during birth. A total of 3,663 women’s water birthing experiences were evaluated.
Here’s what they found: Water birth did not affect these women’s rates of spontaneous vaginal delivery, forceps delivery or delivery with other interventions, nor did it affect C-section rates. However, there was clear evidence that women who immersed themselves in water during the first stage of labor were less likely to request epidurals.
But most importantly? The study’s authors found that water birth was no more risky to moms and babies than birth on dry land. And this was regardless of what stage in the labor these mothers were in (in other words, during contractions and/or pushing).
“In healthy women at low risk of complications, there is moderate to low-quality evidence that water immersion during the first stage of labour probably has little effect on mode of birth or perineal trauma, but may reduce the use of regional analgesia,” write the study authors. “There is no evidence of increased adverse effects to the fetus/neonate or woman from labouring or giving birth in water,” they concluded.
Again, giving birth in water is certainly not for everyone. But those of us who did it cannot sing its praises enough. And it’s great to see that the medical world is finally starting to catch up. Because birthing women need all the tricks of the trade out there to get them through the shit-show of bringing new life into the world, amiright?
Dr. Megan Cooper, a researcher and lecturer of midwifery and nursing at the University of South Australia agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment. As she told Reuters, in reference to this new water birth study, “Not only does water immersion support women to achieve a physiological and non-medicalized labor and birth, but women commonly have a more positive birth experience.”
Yes, it’s all about positive birth experiences (however that looks to you), and empowering women with good information and support to have such experiences. So, Go science! Go doctors! And let’s all keep doing everything in our power to make this world a better place for women, children, and families.