Why Water Births?
Most people are drawn to water. After a hard day’s work, few things feel better than a soak in the tub. Likewise, in the midst of the summer months, few things are as refreshing as a cool swim. During pregnancy, labor and birth, water becomes even more desirable, it soothes, relaxes and rejuvenates, providing an easy way to unwind and let go.
While water does not provide complete pain relief, it usually minimizes it to a level where other methods of pain relief are not needed. These factors influence pain in water: greater privacy, greater mobility, weightlessness, reduction of abdominal pressure, warmth and tactile stimulation, hormone secretion, relaxation.
Conservation of Energy
The water reduces opposition to gravity and supports the mother’s body weight so that her energy can be used to cope with the contractions.
Reduction of Abdominal Pressure
The reduction of abdominal pressure caused by buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and better blood circulation. This results in better oxygenation to the uterine muscles, hence less pain for the mother and more oxygen for the baby.
Greater Comfort & Mobility
Weightlessness induced by the buoyancy of the water reduces opposition to gravity. Under water, the mother has greater ease and freedom to move spontaneously and to change her position.
Most people feel relaxed and find great comfort in water.
Perhaps because we begin our lives in the womb surrounded by liquid, this basic familiarity stays with us. For thousands of years women have been using water to ease labor and facilitate birth. When a woman in labor relaxes in a warm tub, free from gravity’s pull on her body, with sensory stimulation reduced; her body is less likely to secrete stress-related hormones. This allows her body to produce the pain inhibitors-endorphins-that complement labor. Noradrenalin and catecholamines, the hormones that are released during stress, actually raise blood pressure and can inhibit or slow labor. Women achieve a level of comfort in water that in turn reduces their levels of fear and stress. Women’s perception of pain is greatly influenced by their level of anxiety. When labor becomes physically easier, a woman’s ability to concentrate calmly is improved and she is able to focus inward on the birth processes. Water helps some women reach a state of consciousness in which their fear and resistance are diminished or removed completely; their bodies then relax, and their babies are born in the easiest, gentlest way possible.
Most women relax as soon as they enter the warm water.
It lowers adrenalin and encourages endorphins, the hormones that are the bodies own pain relievers. The water supports the weight of the baby and eases the many aches and pains of late pregnancy helping the mother to relax so the endorphin level rises. The support of the water allows the mother to adopt any position which she finds comfortable without getting too tired. Being in water also helps to soften the perineum and makes it easier to be born without tearing or needing an episiotomy and therefore no stitches.
Soaking in a tub of water to ease labor is inviting to most women.
For women who find water soothing and comfortable during labor, they usually want to give birth in water. However, laboring in water does more than merely relax and comfort the woman. Resting in a warm tub of water helps facilitate the progression of the latter stages of labor. Many women report a sensation like an “energy surge” that moves through them as soon as they step into water. While a woman in labor relaxes in a warm pool, free from gravity’s pull on her body, and with sensory stimulation reduced, her body is less likely to secrete stress- related hormones. This allows her body to produce the pain-inhibitors,
endorphins, which compliment labor.
Being more relaxed physically, a laboring woman is able to relax mentally.
Many women, midwives, and doctors acknowledge the analgesic effect of water. Women achieve a level of comfort in the water that in turn reduces their levels of fear and stress. Women’s perception of pain is greatly influenced by their levels of anxiety. When labor becomes physically easier, a woman’s ability to calmly concentrate is improved, and she is able to focus inward on the birth process. The ease of the mother who labors and gives birth in water becomes the ease of the child who is born in the water.
Familiar comfort for the baby.
The baby has been in amniotic water through pregnancy and being born in water is a gentle transition from the womb to your loving arms, water is familiar to the baby and helps them to feel more secure. The baby emerges into the water and is “caught” either by the mother herself or the birth attendant. In the water, the child has freedom of movement within familiar fluid surroundings. A baby’s limb’s can also unfold with greater ease during those first moments when s/he leaves his mother’s body and enters the water. The water offers a familiar comfort after the stress of birth, reassuring the child and allowing his bodily systems time to organize.
Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS "WATER BIRTH"?
“Water birth” is the use of a heated water bath or pool by a laboring woman during labor and birth. Many women in labor find that being in water helps them relax and helps relieve pain. Some women prefer to stay in water at the time of birth and deliver their baby in the tub or pool. Others stay in water only part of the time during the labor and choose to birth their babies on land.
HOW DID WATER BIRTH FIRST GET STARTED?
The first recorded water birth was in 1803 in France. According to the story, a woman who had been in labor for 48 hours climbed into a tub of hot water to relax and her baby was born shortly afterward. Not much is mentioned again about the technique until the 1960’s when a Russian scientist, Igor Charcovsky, began experimenting with the use of warm water immersion for women in labor to see how it affected their labor, the birth, and newborn behavior. Then in the late 1970’s through the 1980’s various obstetric practitioners began using warm water baths for laboring and birthing women. Dr. Michel Odent in France and Dr. Michael Rosenthal in California collected information about its effects and women who had experienced it told their stories. Interest in the idea gradually spread around the world.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WATER DURING LABOR AND/OR BIRTH?
Soaking or floating in a pool of warm water seems to help the body relax more easily because water creates a sense of weightlessness. The muscles don’t have to work so hard to support a laboring woman and there is no pressure on the body to cause local discomfort. This can lead to more relaxation and a sense of reduced pain with the contractions. Some researchers feel that being in water improves blood flow to all parts of the body, especially the uterus. They have observed that a laboring woman’s blood pressure may be lower if she soaks in a tub or warm water. They also feel that improved blood flow may protect the baby against fetal stress. Because being more relaxed and more comfortable lowers stress hormones caused by labor pain, some researchers have found that labor may be somewhat shorter if warm water immersion is used. Because the warm water relaxes muscles in the pelvis and vagina, there may be less need for an episiotomy and less incidence of tears. Most women who have used warm water baths for labor or birth report very positive feelings about it. They report less pain, a greater sense of relaxation, and a greater sense of control.
Most people are drawn to water. After a hard day’s work, few things feel better than a soak in the tub. Likewise, in the midst of the summer months, few things are as refreshing as a cool swim. During pregnancy, labor and birth water becomes even more desirable, water soothes, relaxes and rejuvenates, providing women an easy way to unwind and let go.
During childbirth endorphins are released in your body which helps you feel less pain. However, anxiety can cause the release of adrenaline, which inhibits the effect of the endorphins. Adrenaline also inhibits the release of oxytocin, the hormone that causes uterine labor contractions, which means feeling anxious and nervous can not only make you feel more pain, but it can also make your contractions less effective. Getting into a soothing tub of water relaxes you and allows your body’s natural endorphins and oxytocin to kick in. Immediately, your contractions are less painful and more effective, which may account for why water births are proving to be shorter than traditional births. On top of the internal relaxation effect is the topical effect of the warm water. It is supportive and surrounding. It buoys you up and cradles you in its warmth. It allows tight and tired muscles to relax fully, to release their tension and to be rejuvenated for the next contraction. The water also acts topically to soften the
tissues of the perineum, making episiotomies much less necessary and causing fewer and less severe, tears.