Water Birth Benefits and Potential Risks

Learn about Water Birth, why many women choose it and what are its health benefits for both mother and child…

Water Labor Can Be Very Soothing

Being in water during labor can be very soothing


Most women report that once they settle into the warm water, their contractions hurt less and they find little need for medication. With decreased pain experienced, women feel less anxious and their adrenalin levels also decrease.

When that happens, the natural levels of oxytocin (the hormone which makes the uterus contract) and endorphins (natural pain relieving substance produced by the brain) increase.

Therefore, the labor usually progresses better and the Moms are more able to deal with their labor:

  • Their bodies become relatively weightless because of the water: and they can reposition their bodies more easily.
  • Because her muscles are supported in the water, she becomes less tense and can cope with the contractions easier.

Water Birth Benefits

Giving birth in water provides mother with more relaxation:

  • She breathes easier and oxygenation for both the mother and baby improve.
  • Less energy is expended by the mother and she has more energy to deal with her contractions.
  • The ability to assume different positions allows for widening of the pelvis and easier descent of the baby.
  • The water also helps the tissues of the pelvic floor to relax and stretch more easily.
  • The incidence of tearing of the birth canal and the need for episiotomy decreases.

Labor and water birth are usually offered to women with an uncomplicated pregnancy at term

Women with a variety of complications, including previous caesarean section, have also used birthing pools for labor and delivery without reported problems

There is little evidence to guide women with high-risk pregnancies in their decision about whether to use immersion in water. Immersion in water during the first stage of labor is less controversial than immersion either during the second or third stage. All women who labor or give birth in water should have appropriately skilled attendants.

Several small trials have compared immersion during labor with no immersion but no trials have compared the effects of being born in water with conventional birth. Many of the issues listed here are therefore theoretical and further research is required to reliably determine the real effects of labor and birth in water and to guide clinical practice: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Strategies which may increase safety and women’s satisfaction following the birth in water:
  • Careful control of the water temperature
  • Keep the pool clean
  • Avoid prolonged immersion
  • Minimize the risk of snapping of the umbilical cord
  • Optimize the initiation of neonatal respiration
  • Consider using isotonic water
  • Consider leaving the pool for the third stage

Warm water, explains Susanna Napierala in her Water Birth: A Midwife’s Perspective book, reduces the hours and stress of labor, offers bodily support and relaxes blood flow, helping to ease the baby’s journey.

The baby makes its transition to breathing air in a familiar, gentle medium. Avoiding the didactics of ideology, Napierala infuses her eloquent text with answers to commonly asked questions:

  • How does the baby breathe underwater?
  • What about complications or infections?
  • For whom is water birth a viable choice?
  • How does a couple prepare for it?

The book guides the reader through the details of parental and midwife preparation, labor, and birth, noting danger signals that must be heeded.

“In 1999, my newborn daughter, Isabella, became one of a small statistic: She was among 9,000 American babies born in a labor pool, a Jacuzzi-like swimming pool which eases birth for both mother and child as the infant transfers from the body-temperature water of the amniotic sac to the pool’s body-temperature water. Even fewer of these births shared Isabella’s entry into the world at home with a midwife.

My delivery, highly unconventional by American standards, was the most empowering female and feminist experience of my life. I have never been so sure of my abilities in any other situation.” Read more