Are you thinking about having a water birth? Find out about the advantages and things to consider when planning to labor or give birth in the water.
What is a water birth?
Water birth is the process of giving birth in water using a deep bath or birthing pool (depth of water is key and you’ll see why). Being in water during labour is shown to help with pain as well as being more relaxing and soothing than being out of water (https://evidencebasedbirth.com/waterbirth/). The water helps to support your weight, making it easier to move around and feel more in control during labour, it also relieves pressure. I’ve also included resources at the end of this blog post.
Can I have a water birth?
Having a water birth is an option for you if you have had a low risk pregnancy and your midwife believes it is safe for you and your baby. You can talk to them about it at any of your antenatal appointments.
What are the advantages of water birth?
- The warm water can help to relax, soothe and comfort you.
- The support of the water means you can try different positions and move more freely.
- When upright in the water, gravity will help move the baby down towards the birth canal.
- Being in water can lower your blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety, making your body more able to release endorphins, which can help ease pain.
- The water can help to improve back pain and the feeling of pressure, especially when you are fully dilated.
- Being in the pool during labour and birth can be a “cosy” experience, making you feel safe.
- The water can help your perineum stretch gradually as the baby’s head is being born, reducing the risk of injury.
Are there any disadvantages of having a water birth?
- If you’ve been using the TENS machine that’s going to need to be removed before you enter the water.
- Your contractions may slow down or get weaker, especially if you go in the pool too soon (your midwife will discuss this with you and help you with timing pool entry).
- If the pool water is too cool at birth, your baby is at risk of hypothermia. But your midwife will check the water temperature regularly and I provide a floating thermometer. If your baby’s temperature is low, skin to skin contact with you and warm towels will help (Towels left on a heat pad during the labor or given a quick heat through in the dryer does the trick).
- You might need to leave the pool if there’s reason to monitor baby more closely or if your labor has slowed down as a result of you submersing yourself.
Can my baby drown or inhale water if I give birth in the Pool?
Many birthers and their partner’s wonder whether there is a risk of their baby drowning if they give birth in water but it is very unlikely to happen.
Babies do not need to breathe when they are in the womb because they get oxygen from the blood that comes from their parent through the placenta. When they are born in water, their body behaves as if they are still in the womb until they take their first breath of air, at which point their lungs open up. As a baby comes from an amniotic sac filled with water in the womb into warm water (in the birth pool), the lungs are not open and no water can enter.
After your baby is born in the water, you and /or your midwife will bring them to the surface slowly. Your baby will only be under water for a short time and won’t take a breath until they are out of the water.
Your baby is only at risk:
- if their head is brought above the water and brought down again (hence why deep birth pools are key)
- if their oxygen supply from the placenta is affected
- if their temperature changes suddenly.
Your midwife will be careful to monitor the above during your labor and birth.
Where can I have a water birth?
- At home with a hired birthing pool or if you have a deep tub.
- In a birth centre ( we do not currently have a birth centre in Victoria and VGH has showers but not birth tubs)
What should I wear for my water birth?
Silk Negligee? ….all jokes aside-you can wear what feels comfortable for you, keeping in mind that you will be in what is essentially a large bath. Many birthers choose to wear a bikini, tankini or loose fitting sports bra. You can wear a t-shirt or tank top if you want a tad more coverage. Some birthers prefer to be naked.
Whatever you feel comfortable with wearing on your top half is fine.
It is best to take your bottom half off so that the midwife can see what is happening as you approach birth. However, if you wish to leave your unders on until that stage, that is your right.
What other pain relief can I have in the water?
Water is sometimes referred to as ‘nature’s epidural’ or ‘aquadural’, because of the support and pressure relief it gives you. There would need to be some space of time after you’ve had intramuscular morphine or the like before you could enter the pool. In other places a birther can have gas and air ( entonox or nitrous oxide) while in the water but this is not available currently in Victoria. Most birthers find the combo of water, reassurance, breathing, massage and vocal toning are helpful pain relief.
Can I have delayed cord clamping if I give birth in the water?
Delayed cord clamping or DCC has become the standard of care in Canada. Most birth centers, labour wards and homebirth teams will try to do DCC for every birth. This is because holding off from cutting the cord until the blood from the placenta has stopped flowing into your baby can increase your baby’s iron levels and the amount of stem cells they have, which will help with their growth and immune system. Although many centers practice DCC as normal, you can add this to your birth plan to reinforce your wishes.
The only reason DCC would not happen is if you or your baby are suddenly unwell just after birth. If the baby is slow to breathe, or you are bleeding more heavily than normal, the midwife may need to cut the cord earlier than usual.
You and your baby’s safety during and after a water birth is very important and this will always take priority.
How do I deliver the placenta if I have a water birth?
Your midwife is likely to ask you to get out of the pool to deliver the placenta because gravity can be helpful in the third stage of labour. It also makes it easier to help you in case of an emergency, as some new mums can feel faint after birth, or during the third stage of labour. If you do suddenly feel lightheaded, it may be difficult to get you out of the pool quickly and safely.
Most hospitals, birth centres and midwife colleges have a policy on how the placenta should delivered, and most of these are on a bed, toilet, birth stool or floor mat for your safety. Please ask your midwife about the third stage of labor.
In addition to what I bring in your water birth kit you will also want to have:
- Towels, LOTS OF THEM. Dark colored is preferred. Some folks just sanitize towels they pickup second hand to save money.
- A tarp or plastic drop sheet for under the pool ( when I have these in stock I bring them for you, just ask)
- A Robe or amazing blanket for when you get out of the pool. Again, dark colored is good if you cant get to the laundry soon after labor/birth.
- Large pots to keep water simmering in in case you want a quick, warm water top up but don’t have enough heat in the hot water tank (usually this isn’t a problem).
More helpful Resources
The short version of the evidence: https://www.ontariomidwives.ca/water-birth
Systematic Reviews: https://www.cochrane.org/CD000111/PREG_immersion-water-labour-and-birth
U.S based but relevant:
I’ve been saying for months I would share one of my Bliss Ball Recipes. Sure you can troll the internet and find a recipe or two but if you’re looking for a protein power ball that can see you through a nausea time in your pregnancy, long labor, or long breastfeeding session, this one is one of my favorites from the Salt Spring Experience. The Cardamom aids nausea, and after babe it is helpful for digestion and elimination. The Tahini is high in vitamin E and Calcium and the Chocolate…well, we all need a sugar spike sometimes.
From my Kitchen to yours- I give you
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup grated coconut
1. Grind the almonds fine in a food processor
2. Add the raisins and grind until they’re chopped up
3. Add the tahini, honey, cinnamon, and cardamom, and blend until everything is well mixed.
4. Empty the mixture into a mixing bowl, and hand mix the chocolate chips in.
5. Put the coconut into a shallow bowl or a plate.
6. Form balls form the mixture, roll them in the coconut, and arrange them on a platter.
7. Keep them refrigerated.
Bon Appetit, Bon Birthing and Bon B-Feeding
This morning I experienced something I likely should have started three years ago when I first ventured out in labor support….a gathering of the families I have had the honor and privilege to work for and with.
It happens, we labor support people meet the families, get to know them, join them start to finish for one of the most intense day (or days) of their life…and then we leave. We may have one to two visits with you to see how the family unit is getting on, assist with breastfeeding, but…then we do the sad job of leaving you to become your own family.
We are trained in letting go, leaving you to flourish as parents. But we think of you. We think of a moment we might have shared with you that is forever etched on our life’s template. Like when you look at us and say something like “ I just want to see the series of Breaking Bad before I have this baby,” or when you look at us and say “ Holy S*it, I’m a mum, what’s up with that?” For me, it’s those memories that make me chuckle in the aisle of the grocery store. You’re like a high school boyfriend that makes me smile for no reason….just at the thought.
So, I couldn’t in good faith let another year pass without seeing your breath-taking babies and you again. You, parents, need to know that you are what makes my work thrive. I believe I was meant to work with each family that chooses me. Because you chose me, my life is richer; because you choose me I don’t scowl at my phone when it rings in the night…instead I smile and think “ Here’s another woman, or family I’m gonna love even more after the next 24 hours passes, I’m about to get a lot more connected to what loving your purpose and work is.”
And so I asked all of my 2013-2014 families to join me for a morning of lemonade, bliss balls and a group photo.
As the cars rolled into the parking lot at Gyro Beach at 10am this morning, I just kept thinking, “ Have they even had a chance to have coffee?” “ Have I interrupted baby’s morning nap?”…I had a niggling feeling of guilt for having made the families come all this way just so I could ogle them and get a group photo. But you emerged from your vehicles all smiles, ready to connect with other families, maybe with a babe born the same month as yours.
Me? I just stood there and had a Grinch moment; you know that scene where his heart grows exponentially bigger every time he sees an act of kindness? Every hug I had, every baby who just smiled up at me four, five even ten-month’s later. When I left most of these babies they were barely holding their head’s up. Now, they’re smiling, charming, chunky little people. I have a terrible memory but I remember vividly the moment each of them came into the world.
Last night I planned what I would say to everyone who came. I’d tell them that meeting them and being a part of their birth experience has been the fulfillment in my life I never thought I could get from my work. I’d tell them that each of them had taught me so much about what makes a solid relationship between two people or between a mother and their child. I’d tell them that just by showing up on a sunny Sunday morning when there was a World Cup game fixin to start, just warmed my heart to bits. I’d finish by letting them know that I can look at each and every one of them and relay a heartfelt moment we had shared on “ Birth Day” and how that solidifies my view that we are all meant to share these moments with each other as human beings in our life time. Instead, I felt myself overcome with emotion and felt I might burst into tears and be the “loser doula” who lost it in front of a bunch of smiling, gurgling babies. So, I kept it simple, which is just as well as I’d opened up my left toe a few minutes before on something menacing in the sand. I needed to get it looked at by one of my nurse clients who knew how to doula the doula
What I will now say is true, authentic, raw honesty comes forth from a woman and their partner on the day a child is born. And, then we all surface and move on with our lives. Thank you for letting me be there and support you through your first or third time at the “true- authentic-honest rodeo“.
Today, I just wanted the opportunity to let you know I hold you all in my thoughts long after my service is done with you. You may never really know the joy that radiates throughout my whole body when I see you on the street or in gatherings like today. You affirm that I’m on my chosen path even if my parents likely think I need to go back to a “real job.” You are my real job!
Once this toe heals up I’ll be up in the night to serve more families, but client’s past… you’ll all be etched in this “Grinch” Doula’s heart.
‘Spiritual birth recognizes that each and every birth is the birth of the Christ child. The Birth support person’s job is to do her best to bring both the mother and child through their passage alive and well and to see that the sacrament of birth is kept holy,” writes the great American midwife Ina May Gaskin. When I visited Gaskin’s Farm in Summertown Tennessee earlier this year it was to further my training as a doula – a birth support person.
My first birth experience after my training with Gaskin was with a woman who had an older child and was preparing for her second. This woman remembers loud noises, and being directed what to do when she had her first birth experience. She recalls being tense all over which, she says, made labor pains worse. She had a fear of that same experience with her second child. Being mindful of this I made sure to allow her the space she required as she found her ritual of walking in circles, stepping in only when she needed to be guided physically.
She paused every few steps and we’d rock back and forth together as she hummed and swayed. She was somewhere else right now. A deep and spiritual place, it seemed.
She was completely at one with herself to the point that I knew that even if an intervention needed to happen in her labor, she would stay in this sanctuary she’d stepped into. She continued to hum and rock to the beat of her own internal rhythm
An intervention never came.
This got me thinking…there is something ritual about labouring and something ceremonious in carrying a child from the great unknown into reality.
In her book “Spiritual Midwifery,” Ina May Gaskin extols that if a woman allows herself to enter a spiritual realm in labor her pain will be felt less, she will reach a new high, and she will cross over from one part of her life into a new dimension.
I have to say reading those things before I had a child seemed wildly presumptuous. But, as I attended more and more births as a Doula, I began seeing these crossing over’s more often. There seems to be a marked point in labour where if a woman has enough of a connection to her spirit, she goes inward to an ethereal place.
Almost all religions have some sort of ritual whether it’s the ceremonial and symbolic drinking of wine, chanting, reciting, or singing. It’s that ritual that keeps the follower of a select religion coming back. It represents something meaningful… comforting.
Labor is an intimidating and scary ceremony to step into, but this mother I speak of hummed her baby into the world. When the baby was born she just stared straight ahead, breathing, with a fixed gaze. After what felt like an eternity to me, she just readjusted her eyes and looked at her baby with a smile that took up her whole face. She had come out of her spirit den as it were.
There are instances where the laboring woman can go to a place of divinity. It takes faith, support and the desire to know one’s spirit better, trust it, and let it lead you.
When her labor was over, there she was, back in this world with her newborn child feeling as though she’d rushed toward the center of her spirit for 12 hours and back again, reborn with a newborn. What a blessing it was to witness.
Sarah-Jane Steele is a Journalist, Mother, trained Doula and Yoga Teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article was published in the print and online edition of the Times Colonist Faith Forum page.
You can read more articles on the interfaith blog Spiritually Speaking HERE