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For some mothers-to-be the idea of a water birth conjures up visions of a more relaxed and natural way to give birth, allowing the mother to feel more comfortable and her baby to feel less stressed.
It is certainly an approach that seems to have been around for a very long time, with evidence that some ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Minoans were using water birthing thousands of years ago.
Of course, nowadays mothers-to-be have access to fantastic labour wards staffed with childbirth experts and surrounded by the latest technologies and medicines. So it begs the question: does a water birth offer real benefits and minimum risk or is it better to stick to a hospital ward for the best in medical support?
The benefits of water birth
As we all know, being immersed in water can be relaxing in itself. Add to this the fact that a bath allows more maneuverability and privacy during labour and it is understandable why many women find immersion more comfortable than ‘dry land’ labour.
With water supporting the body, it also has recognised pain relief benefits. In fact, one study showed that there was a significant reduction in the use of epidural/spinal analgesia amongst women who used birth pools during labour (Cluett and Burns 2009).
Of course, not every woman using a birth pool actually plans to give birth in it. In fact, in 2013 a survey by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that only 6% of women gave birth in a birth pool, as opposed to 30% who only planned to use water or a birth pool to help with pain during labour.
So should actual childbirth be avoided when it comes to birth pools?
The risks around water birth
The good news is that there is no statistical evidence to say that a water birth is unsafe. What is more, guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) actively recommend using water whilst in labour.
That said, water birth will not be ideal for everyone. For example, if doctors feel that you or your baby need to be monitored closely during childbirth to minimise risk, then you are better off in a more conventional hospital setting.
Equally, you will need to think about what pain relief you might want, as it is unsafe to use epidurals, opoid drugs or Tens machines in birthing pools. That said, you will be able to use gas and air, breathing techniques and massage, which when combined with the pain relief benefits of water may leave you more comfortable than when using pain killers.
Where you can find birthing pool facilities
Whilst many people think that water births are something that you can only have at home, you can actually find water birth facilities in hospital maternity wards and birth centres.
To find out if there are units local to you that offer birth pools you can click here to use Which’s helpful Birth Choice tool.
Of course, if you do decide to have your water birth at home, you will need to buy or hire your own inflatable birth pool. If you are planning to fill this from the domestic hot water supply when you go into labour then that is fine, so long as you don’t let the water become too hot.
However, you should avoid using birth pools that are filled before labour begins and whose temperature is maintained by a heater and re-circulation pump, as the legionella bug has been found in this type of birthing pool.
Need more advice on having a water birth?
As well as talking to your doctor and midwife, you can also find a host of information online to help you learn more about giving birth in water and whether a water birth is for you.
Here are just a few links that should be of help:
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