Doctors Question Safety of Giving Birth in Water
Considering water birth? Here's what two leading doctors' groups want you to know about this natural childbirth option.
I admit it. I really, really, really wanted to have a water birth. The urge struck when I found out I was pregnant with baby No. 2. I watched a video of a home water birth, and the notion of birthing my baby while peacefully submerged in a warm tub of water seemed so serene, tranquil, and right compared to my experience with hospital birth.
Did I end up having one? Not even close. Due to some complications that arose towards the end of my pregnancy, I delivered via emergency Cesarean section. Everything turned out fine, and my baby was born healthy, but I was left struggling for months afterward with trying to reconcile the birth I got with the birth I had so very much wanted. In plain terms, a part of me felt like a water birth failure.
With some perspective, I can now see that ignoring certain warning signs and sticking with my plan to birth at home, in water, would have no doubt led to negative consequences. Water birth is not for everyone. It wasn’t for me. And now a new report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics calls into question whether any woman (or baby) benefits from birthing in water.
According to the jointly released opinion, ACOG and the AAP say that while spending the first stage of labor submerged in water may offer pain relief, the “safety and efficacy of immersion in water during the second stage of labor have not been established,” the report reads, “and immersion in water during the second stage of labor has not been associated with maternal nor fetal development.”
The report drew its conclusions from case studies, particularly where babies have drowned while breathing in water at hospitals and home births. And while some may discount these incidents as isolated and very few in number, both the ACOG and the AAP think the statistics are relevant enough to withhold recommendations about water birth at this time, citing the need for more research.
The report also points out that other potential risks of water births include infection, difficulty regulating the baby’s body temperature and difficulty breathing if the baby inhales water. Both the ACOG and AAP recommend that only low-risk patients choose immersion in water tubs during labor and delivery. Tubs also need to be kept clean and doctors and midwives need to be able to get a woman out of the tub quickly if a complication arises.
Giving birth in water is not the same as spending part of labor in the tub, a practice that is growing increasingly mainstream as a natural labor pain relief technique. “There’s actually pretty good evidence that it’s safe to labor in the tub,” Dr. Aaron Caughey, an associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a member of the committee that wrote the opinion, said (via NPR). “But there’s less good evidence that it’s safe for the baby and even safe for the mom, in terms of infection risk, to give birth in the tub.”
It’s now easy for me to see that I was not at all a good candidate for water birth, but for those of you low-risk mamas-to-be who are, does this report do anything to change your mind about your birth plans?
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