Water births - safe or a risk?
A fellow doula was recently asked on her social media page if water births were safe. It stopped me in my tracks a little, as someone who had three water births, I had never questioned the safety of this method of giving birth. For me it was unimaginable to give birth outside of water. I just could not imagine it and felt so strongly that I needed to feel the water surrounding my body and holding my pelvis as contractions tightened. I had a deep sense and feeling of safety in the water and knew I would feel vulnerable on land. Indeed a midwife who told me I could 'just push my baby out on the bed now' was met with a stern 'absolutely not!' My husband and herself had to follow as I waddled determinedly to the birth pool already filled for me.
Birthing in water is certainly not something that 'started' in the 70s with Michael Odent. Birthing in water is very much engrained in the past. Women in Pacific coastal areas often came down to the shores to birth there in private and in South America (past and present) tribal women birth in the running rivers.
But is it safe and what are the actual risks? Some doctors voice concern at the baby drowning and taking its first breath full of water. They are concerned at the risk of infection from blood and feacal matter that can enter the water during birth. There is also concern at pneumonia developing and the cord rupturing if it is too short and is pulled above the water too quickly.
Barbara Harper, founder of Water Birth International, made a valid point that the ever rising popularity in water births and women birthing independently in water with little intervention, is perhaps driving a backlash from doctors who have to stand with their hands in their pockets and let the birth happen without their participation.
Certainly the latest Cochrane review found no harm to the random babies in controlled trials of water births and it pointed to less use of epidural. (Cochrane review 2012).
In the UK in 2006, both doctors and midwives came together to endorse 'aquatic labour' citing that complications are seemingly rare.
Midwives who are experienced in water birth know how to minimise the risks in the water. Once the baby takes the first breath of air, you would not put the baby back under the water, the cord is checked before lifting baby up gently, to take its first gasp of air. The pool is sterile and clean before being filled up at the correct body temperature (minimising pneumonia) and mother and baby emerge from the pool not too long after birth so contact with bodily fluids is not an issue and both get warm and dry. If you have discussed water births with your midwife and doula, and feel confident it is the place for you to give birth in, then do it. The positives of warmth, pain relief, possible less tearing as the skin is softened, relaxation, focus and comfort may work as well for you, as they did for me.