Earlier, I blogged about the safety of water birth. Now, let’s explore some of the benefits. There are some sound scientific, physiological reasons why water works for labor and birth.
The Main beneficial element of a water birth is increased relaxation. The relaxing effect of water birth is not merely anecdotal, it is physiological… When a woman relaxes physically, she is able to relax mentally with greater ability to focus on the birth process. The more relaxed you can become, the more efficient your labor will be due to the effect of relaxation on hormonal changes, increased energy, and increased blood flow for you and your baby.
Relaxation increases oxytocin levels essential to a productive labor, while stress increases adrenaline levels that hinder production of the wonderful, natural oxytocin.
When labor is made more effective and the birthing person is more relaxed, the need for medical interventions such as pitocin, pain medications, or cesarean birth can be reduced. (Chaichian) (Eberhard) (Lukassee) (Torkamani) There are elements of a water birth that cause greater relaxation; buoyancy, warmth and the sanctuary of the tub and water.
It is impossible to completely relax a muscle that is in use, but using the buoyancy of the water allows a person’s body weight to be supported by water, rather than by the musculoskeletal system. This can really be beneficial to restoring and conserving energy.
Buoyancy increases circulation, hence increases oxygenation to the uterus and to the baby. With buoyancy, the baby is allowed to float off of the main arteries and veins that supply circulation to the uterus. The buoyancy also lessens a mother’s body weight, allowing for the ease and freedom to move to new and possibly more optimal positions. As compared to the supine, or semi-supine traditional birthing position on land, in a water birth, the woman can move to positions that result in less compression of the main vessels to the baby. While the baby benefits from increased oxygen levels, there is also a reduction in stress on the baby. This increase in oxygen also allows the uterus to work more efficiently. Movement can also facilitate the process of the baby moving into the birth canal.
The warmth of the water can affect the laboring woman in many ways. One such effect is the reduction of the sensation of pain, and is most likely the main reason women seek out water birth. According to the Gate Theory of Pain, any amount of pleasure reduces the sensations of pain. The warm, pleasurable water, against the nerves in the skin, can block pain impulses, minimizing their effect. The reduction of pain and need for epidurals are supported by research. (Chaichian)(Eberhard) (Torkamani).
On land, midwives use warm compresses to care for the area of the perineum. In the warm water, relaxing the pelvic floor muscles becomes easier for some women and less painful. Water birth can therefore decrease the likelihood of the need for an episiotomy (Menakaya) (Torkamani) and/or a birth injury (such as a tear) with experienced water birth attendants. (Chaichian)
Warmth has other benefits. Relaxing in the warmth of water can also reduce anxiety (and possibly blood pressure). We looked at how buoyancy of the water increases circulation. However, blood pressure and circulation can also be affected by the warm water as the heat dilates blood vessels.
During birth a woman can feel very vulnerable. In a water birth compared to a land birth, her body is not exposed for all to see, not exposed to the elements of the room, but blanketed by warm water. Since the water provides a sanctuary of sorts with a greater sense of privacy, it can reduce inhibitions, anxiety, and fears. Many women can relax deeper feeling that their modesty is somewhat intact.
We at Tender Beginnings did our first water birth in 1999. Since that time we have assisted in over 500 water births. Last year 78% of our births were water births. Check out some of the birth stories and our reviews on our website and Facebook Nashville pages, and you will see that although water birth is not for all, most women love water birth.
- Eberhard, J., S. Stein, et al. (2005). “Experience of pain and analgesia with water and land births.” J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 26(2): 127-133.
- Lukasse, M., R. Rowe, et al. (2014). “Immersion in water for pain relief and the risk of intrapartum transfer among low risk nulliparous women: secondary analysis of the Birthplace national prospective cohort study.” BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 14: 60.
- Menakaya, U., S. Albayati, et al. (2013). “A retrospective comparison of water birth and conventional vaginal birth among women deemed to be low risk in a secondary level hospital in Australia.” Women Birth 26(2): 114-118.
- Torkamani, S. A., F. Kangani, et al. (2010). “The effects of delivery in water on duration of delivery and pain compared with normal delivery.” Pakistani Journal of Medical Science 26(3): 551-555.