Waterbirth Feels Natural, But Is It Right? By Phillip Thomson Eighty per cent of the world’s surface is water, over half of the human body is water and ninety-seven per cent of a three-day-old fetus is water. Isn’t it only natural for a birth to take place in the water? Waterbirth is a safe way to bring life into the world. The baby will get enough oxygen through the placenta until the face touches the air at the water’s surface. It is important to ensure however that babies being born in water should be either completely submerged or out of the water to avoid confusion to their breathing mechanisms. Carolyn Hastie is a midwife as well as a nurse at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital and says the soothing qualities of water assists a woman to relax during labour. “I can say categorically that every woman I have met has never had anything negative to say about their waterbirth experience,” says Carolyn. “The effect of the water along the skin has a primal association. It is warm and gives a sense of weightless so women don’t feel so heavy.” What Are The Benefits Of A Waterbirth? Water is transparent but giving birth in water can feel more private because the mother remains partially covered by the water’s natural darkness. Deeper water allows for more privacy but even a shallow pool at home is more secluded than a mother’s legs being spread and pointed towards the doorway in a maternity ward. A waterbirth’s greatest benefit is pain relief. Water helps any person to relax their muscles and this is the same during birth. Water negates the problem of an anxious mother tightening her muscles during labour. Some internet sites claim waterbirth, or deep immersion, gives 50 to 80 per cent reduction in labour pain, although it is uncertain how an accurate percentage figure can be put on a person’s pain. What is known is that it is a natural numbing agent that reduces the need for epidural anesthesia. Many women say the relief water provides is significant. Justine Caines, secretary of the Homebirth Australia, said being submerged in water during labour not only eases pain, is comfortable and is a primal experience between the mother, baby and the water. When Justine was labouring in water with her last child Toby in February 2003 she thought the baby would not be arriving for hours. It was however a quick birth and she was fooled because of the absence of pain. “It’s interesting watching the video because I am just lolling about, it was that effective. It looked like the baby was never going to be able to come out,” Justine said. “It was astounding. Once that warm water hits your belly during labour it is luxurious.” Justine also says that using water too early may over relax the body causing labour to slow down. Justine believes it is important to “reserve it for when the pain is intense.” What Sort Of Equipment Do You Need? It seems the only real problem with a waterbirth is finding the equipment that suits you and your partner. It is important to find a pool that has strong enough sides to support your weight and that is deep enough to maneuver in. Justine Caines has four children and what she likes to call two “attempted” waterbirths. This is because the babies didn’t actually arrive into the water due to the fact she was standing up and the pool she chose was not deep enough to allow her to do this. “I like standing up and holding on to the sides of the pool with my toes crunched and fingers clenched,” Justine explained. “So I think I’ll have to get my husband to build a bigger pool.” When making a decision it is important to remember that large pools are harder to fill and keep warm and that every millilitre of water that goes into a pool has to be pumped out again. If your birth pool is on carpet sit the pool on a tarp, especially if you are getting in or out of the pool, to avoid soaking the floor. For comfort Justine suggests a wooden frame with a pool liner inside and a pillow to lean on. Some tips about equipment include hiring an immersion heater to keep the bath at body temperature and a baby-bath thermometer to monitor the water. Another good idea is to get hold of some bubble-wrap in case the pool has been filled with hot water but the baby is not arriving soon. In this situation placing the bubble-wrap over the top, like a pool cover, helps to contain the heat. Can You Combine a Waterbirth With A Hospital Delivery? Very few women have access to birthing pools but Carolyn Hastie said women’s choices are being increasingly supported by hospitals. “In a lot of hospitals now they have baths that are big enough for women to move around,” Carolyn said. “If the women are going to hospital to have their baby they will need to find out if the hospital has a pool. There are hospitals that do allow women to take their own pools.” Water is a safe and effective option in relieving the pain of labour. Not only does water support the labouring woman, it also provides a gentle, warm welcome to our new babies. Babies Benefit from Waterbirth Water is similar to the environment of the womb. This makes the transition from the womb to outside world smoother for the baby. It is a gentler and slower transition than birthing outside of water. The baby spends less time in the cramped birth canal and when born it can unfold its limbs more easily in the weightlessness of the water. The risk of the baby’s eyes being irritated from bright lights is reduced. It is introduced to noise more comfortably and even the first touches from mum are softer. The baby’s transition is much gentler in every respect and means the transition is less traumatic. This means the first experience the baby has with the mother in the new world is a positive one. The baby’s in-built familiarity with the water is seen as it swims toward the water’s surface before taking a breath. There is a primal experience that occurs between mother, baby and water that is not tangible and is difficult to describe. It is best referred to as…natural.