|Some of my friends are excited about the idea of a water
birth. However I am skeptical, as I am afraid of the idea
of my baby drowning. Is this a realistic fear?
The concept of water birth is not as new as you might think
– in fact the first research was done in Russia in
the 1960’s. This work was taken up and popularized
by Michel Odent in France in the 1970’s, and the rise
in popularity of the concept was what led to research in
the safety of water births.
So you will be relieved to hear of a comprehensive study
, published in the British Medical Journal, which was done
in UK in 1999 which showed that the safety of water births
was in line with the safety of low risk vaginal births overall.
None of the deaths of the babies which occurred could be
linked to water births, and were due to other causes. Although
the authors were cautious about this outcome, it did seem
to show that fewer babies born by water birth needed special
care after the birth than those born on land.
The idea that you baby might take the first breathe while
under water is not an illogical fear. It seems to make sense,
but luckily, there is hard fact to show that this is unlikely.
The factor most likely to trigger breathing is the drop
in temperature experienced by the face of the baby as it
emerges from the vagina. So keeping the temperature of the
pool at body temperature or slightly above is a very good
method to prevent the first breathe being taken under water.
An experienced midwife will gently lift the baby through
the water so that within around 10 seconds the baby’s
face has emerged from the water.
In addition there are other factors that prevent the baby
from breathing under water. As long as the placenta and
the umbilical cord are still in place, the baby experiences
hormones which inhibit breathing. Also, the baby has a strong
reflex to shut the larynx as soon as fresh water touches
the baby’s mouth.
The baby could start to breathe if handled too much during
the labour. Thus water birth midwives will know how to assist
the birth without stimulating the baby, and then to bring
the baby up to the surface in a gentle movement. In addition
a baby who was struggling to get enough oxygen during the
labour, may begin to breathe very quickly. This is why the
monitoring of the foetal heartbeat during labour is critical
during a water birth. If there are any signs that the baby
is in distress, it is imperative that you be prepared to
leave the water as directed by the midwife, as a land birth
will be safer for your baby in this situation.
The benefits of a water birth, if you have access to such
a facility, are numerous and generally highly beneficial
to both mother and baby. For this reason if the option is
open to you and you feel positive about the idea, then it
is an option worth exploring.