The idea of a birthing pool was always something that appealed to me. There’s nothing more relaxing than a warm bath; makes sense that this ritual would make the laboring process easier. Major medical organizations now agree that laboring underwater can provide benefits for the birthing process, but actually delivering underwater may be dangerous.
Two major medical organizations, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement last week regarding their joint opinion on the safety of water birth:
“Many labor and delivery units are equipped with tubs to be used by laboring women, and immersion in water for relaxation and pain relief is appealing to some,” Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, chairman of the ACOG committee that developed the opinion, said in a college news release.
“But it is important to recognize that laboring in water is not the same as delivering underwater,” Ecker said. “Laboring in water may offer some potential benefits, but delivering underwater does not seem to have clear advantages, and the risk of rare but serious consequences to a delivering baby’s health is something women and providers should all be aware of.”
According to the statement, the two groups believe potential problems associated with underwater delivery include “an increased risk of infection in the mother and baby, difficulty controlling the baby’s body temperature, greater risk of umbilical cord damage, breathing problems caused by the baby inhaling water and possible seizures or asphyxiation of the baby after birth.” The groups seem to agree that while laboring in the water may have clear benefits for the mother, actually delivering in water has no benefits for baby and may actually carry serious risks.
Supporters of water birth (including my own midwives) have argued that babies have a reflex that prevents them from inhaling water. But doctors say this isn’t always the case. It’s known that babies can inhale fecal matter while in the womb. From Huffpost Parents:
“There are rare risk associated with [water births], especially if the baby is actually delivered in the water,” said Dr. Tonse Raju, chief of the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who was involved with the recommendations. Mothers should be aware of these risks, he said. In fact, inhaling bits of fecal matter is also a risk of underwater deliveries, Raju said.
I think it’s just important to do your research and keep an open mind – especially if you are laboring at home. People on either side of the home birth versus hospital birth argument can really have their blinders on. I realize you can also labor in a tub in a hospital, but if you are doing it at home and don’t have the benefit of immediate medical intervention, don’t you want to be fully aware of all of the risks involved? Weighing the risks and reading the research is definitely in order.