Water is recognised as an effective form of pain control favoured by an incresing number of women.
Pregnant women find great comfort and repose in being submerged in water. Noted for its analgesic effect, many women favour water as a principal method of pain control. One woman described sitting in a tub of warm during labour as similar to "getting a shot of demerol, but without the side effects." Others have referred to a birthing pool as "a wet epidural." It seems that women are able to achieve an unequalled level of comfort in water that reduces levels of fear and stress. Water therapy can be as simple as sitting in a bath or shower at home, to booking a birthing pool at a local birthing centre or hospital. As more and more women approach labour and birth with an ideal of maintaining and managing ownership of their birth experience, water offers an alternative way to manage pain and speed labour without the necessity of medical drugs or assisted delivery. The result is often a more empowering birthing experience with less medical intervention and injury.
Top ten benefits of water during labour & birth
- promotes labour
- encourages circulation
- increases focus
- relieves pain
- promotes elasticity of the perineum
- enhances a newborn’s birthing experience
- allows freedom of movement
- provides a safe and hygienic alternative
- can reduce the need for medical drugs and intervention
- creates a positive birthing experience
- Resting in a warm tub of water facilitates the progression of labour.
Free from gravity’s pull and with sensory stimulation reduced, the body is less likely to secrete the stress hormones noradreneline and catecholamines that raise the blood pressure and slow or inhibit labour. This allows the body to produce the pain-inhibiting endorphins that compliment labour. Furthermore, the increased relaxation encourages the uterus to contract more effectively.
Many pregnant women report an "energy surge" that moves through them as soon as they step into water. Sometimes the level of pain reduction is so great that women surrender themselves to the water, full dilation occurs rapidly and the baby slips out. This is quite safe as a healthy newborn will breathe only when lifted clear of the water. Oxygen continues to be supplied through the umbilical cord for a few minutes after birth. A midwife will often rest a finger on the cord so that she can feel the blood pulsating through it.
Studies show that being immersed in warm water increases venous pressure encouraging blood to return to the heart more efficiently. It enhances cardiac action and slows the pulse rate. Women with hypertension (high blood pressure) often experience a significant drop in blood pressure within 10 to 15 minutes after entering a warm bath.
A woman’s perception of pain is greatly influenced by anxiety. Being more relaxed physically, a woman labouring is able to relax mentally, enhancing the ability to focus.
Many women acknowledge that once they get into the water concentration is strengthened. Doctors and midwives who attend waterbirths find that the mere sight and sound of water pouring into the tub helps some women release whatever inhibitions were slowing the birth, at times so quickly that the birth occurs even before the pool is filled. Often women get in the pool with intention of using it for labour only and the birth occurs before they can get out of the pool.
The unique sensation of water counteracts the force of gravity and relieves internal pressure on the lower back and buttocks. The analgesic effect of warm water helps some women reach a state of consciousness in which their fear and resistance are diminished or removed completely.
Promotes elasticity of the perineum
Another benefit of waterbirth is the elasticity that water imparts to the tissues of the perineum, reducing the incidents and severity of tearing and the need for painful stitches or episiotomy. Surgeon and childbirth expert Michel Odent reported that in the 100 waterbirths he had attended, there were no episiotomies performed and only 29 cases of tearing, all of which were minor surface tears.
Enhances a newborn’s birthing experience
It is known that drugs or synthetic hormones used during birth can affect the baby. If the mother’s delivery is easy and smooth, so too is the child’s birth. The baby spends less time in the cramped birth canal and is free from the fear, frustration or other painful emotions that a long and difficult labour might arouse in the mother. It is thought that water provides a gentle and less traumatic transition for a newborn entering this world.
Water recreates a womb-like environment and offers comfort after the stress of birth, allowing bodily systems time to organise. During birth babies often open their eyes. As a baby is born into water, its limbs are able to unfold with ease and lights and sounds are softer when perceived from under water. Even the touch of its mother’s skin against its own tender skin is softened by the presence of water. The innate alliance human beings have with water is first apparent in babies who move toward the surface of the water before taking a breath. This mechanism remains in tact throughout the first year of life.
Allows freedom of movement
Water allows a woman in labour to frequently change her position as she feels necessary. It is easy to move in water and a woman often switches positions without a thought, allowing the baby’s rotation and descent of the head. A birthing pool offers the added advantage of being able to use the side of the pool as support. A supported squatting position encourages the knees to spread wide so that the pelvis opens fully in preparation for delivery.
Provides a safe & hygienic alternative
Waterbirthing is considered completely safe and hygienic and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Plastic linings are used as a further prevention of passing infections between users.
Can Reduce the need for medical drugs & intervention
Most women use birthing pools as a preferred method of pain control and have no need for analgesic medication. The analgesic effects of water negate the need for intervention with many women reporting only small, surface tears.
Creates a positive birthing experience
Overall, mothers who have given birth in water often feel exhilarated, ecstatic and euphoric. This is a positive result. Furthermore, the ease of a mother who labours and gives birth in water translates to the child.
It is believed that a mother and a baby share the emotional experiences of birth due to hormones secreted and absorbed by the baby.
Marysia recalls her feelings in her waterbirth story: “I was so ecstatic. I felt so proud. I kept saying, I did it! I did it!”