Many women are attracted to the idea of a waterbirth, and why not? The notion of laboring in warm water is soothing, comforting, and relaxing. Since the water provides a sense of privacy, laboring in water can reduce inhibitions, anxiety, and fears. The water also reduces stress-related hormones, allowing a mother’s body to produce endorphins which serve as pain-inhibitors. Less pain sounds great to an expectant mom.

Recently, one of our moms-to-be had a lot of questions about the option of waterbirth at Breath of Life. She was pregnant with her second child and wanted a less stressful birth experience than she had with her first baby, who was born in the hospital with an epidural.

As we answered her questions, we realized you may also want answers to similar questions. In addition, we will share snippets of Jaqulynn’s birth experiences. Jaqulynn gave birth to both of her babies at Breath of Life and now is a birth assistant with us. Both babies were born in one of our waterbirth tubs and she has some unique perspectives to share. 

Answers to Questions About Waterbirth

Jaqulynn: The nurse-midwives at Breath of Life became like family to us. They knew what I wanted, what I liked, what I feared–all the way from my prenatal visits to my postpartum visits–and worked with me to achieve my goals.

Birth is such a unique and personalized experience. There are so many things that go into the outcome of your birth, and every birth is different, even for the same woman. A waterbirth is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to listen to your body and be honest with your midwife. Water is a tool that you have available to you if it helps your labor and birthing process, and ultimately, you want to use the tools that are right for you. 

How does water benefit me during labor?

Buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions and improves the blood circulation which results in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles. That means less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby. The buoyancy of the water also lessens a mother’s body weight and gives her the ability to move around and change positions more easily. Sometimes, in the later stages of labor when fatigue typically sets in, moms describe an increase in energy.

Jaqulynn: I thought I would love to be in the tub during labor, but ultimately, I didn’t enjoy the feeling of weightlessness that many women love. For me, I wanted to be grounded and to grab hold of something. With my first baby, I got out of the tub and moved to the shower instead. I still got the benefits of hydrotherapy, but without being submerged. When it came time to push, I moved back into the tub and birthed my baby there. It was the best of both worlds. 

Does laboring in water help with labor progress?

Contractions that are intense outside of the tub may be met with a wave of relief and comfort once a laboring mom is submerged in water. As the laboring mom relaxes she has a greater ability to focus on the birth process. In addition, immersion in water often helps ease anxiety. This, in turn, allows oxytocin to flow, which brings on contractions. Sometimes, however, contractions begin to space out prior to entering the pushing phase of labor. Your midwife may suggest some different positions or recommend having a few contractions out of the water.

Jaqulynn: Labor can leave a woman feeling exposed and vulnerable. Being in the tub feels like a cocoon. For some women, water can progress things along because they can move more freely. Each experience is different and you just have to try it and see how your body responds. 

Is a waterbirth safe for my baby?

Most people worry about the baby breathing underwater and this is a very common question. When a baby enters the world through water, their first experience is an environment that is like their familiar home in the amniotic sac. Researchers have determined that the risk of the baby breathing underwater during birth is a false fear. The baby is protected by the “Dive Reflex.” Water is the most natural environment for a baby. When the baby is born in water, it is still attached to the umbilical cord and is still receiving oxygen exactly as it was in the womb. As a matter of fact, a baby born underwater doesn’t even realize it is born until you take him or her to the surface. It is a very gentle way to welcome a new life and increase the baby’s sense of reassurance and security.

Jaqulynn: It is safe if you choose a provider, like Breath of Life, whose staff is trained and knowledgeable about how to attend a waterbirth. Ask your midwife or doctor if they are comfortable with a waterbirth. 

Do I need a doctor present for a waterbirth?

No. Breath of Life has nurse-midwives on staff who become part of your entire pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum journey. Any of our nurse-midwives can assist you with a waterbirth at our birth center.

Jaqulynn: I have a friend who selected a particular hospital because they had birthing tubs. She wanted a waterbirth and felt better about being at a hospital. However, when she was admitted for labor she wasn’t allowed to use the tub because her doctor didn’t feel comfortable performing a waterbirth without a midwife present and the midwife wasn’t available. The benefit of a birth center is that you have so many options available to you and you are empowered during your labor and birth experience.

Can anyone have a waterbirth?

Waterbirths are appropriate for low-risk pregnancies. The use of hydrotherapy in labor is the most popular tool with 90% of our moms. Of those who labor in our deep waterbirth tubs, 50% birth there.

The goal is always a healthy birthing process, so sometimes situations arise and moms may need to adjust their birthing plans from a waterbirth. At Breath of Life, we seek to honor your birth plan as much as possible, but always remain flexible enough to do what is best for both mom and baby.

Jaqulynn: Be flexible with your birth plan. Listen to your body. Your nurse-midwives will also help to guide you through the process. If you’re in the water and it doesn’t feel right, go ahead and get out of the tub. And even if you didn’t like the tub the first time, try it again the next time because what didn’t work with your first baby, maybe the best thing for you the next time. Also, sometimes your midwife will need you to get out of the water to monitor the baby or because of some concern that arises. That’s okay. In the end, it’s a collaborative decision between you and the midwife to achieve your goals. 

How is recovery after a waterbirth?

Every situation and birth is completely different. Most moms report an easier recovery after waterbirth. Water may help the perineum to become more elastic and relaxed, often reducing the incidence of tearing. The whole experience can be gentler and less intense for the body. 

Jaqulynn: I would never want women to think that a waterbirth is going to prevent them from experiencing something they want to avoid. I know some women believe that they can avoid tearing if they birth in the tub. While there is evidence that supports a reduced risk of significant tearing and the water does soften the tissue around the birth canal, everyone’s experience is unique.  

How do I know if a waterbirth is right for me?

We are here to support and guide you through the many options available to you with unmedicated birthing, not just waterbirth. You will be empowered to be an active part of every decision. That said, waterbirth is a calm and gentle way to welcome a baby from the womb into the world, and most of our moms who use our waterbirth tubs agree they would do it again. 

Jaqulynn: Don’t feel locked into your choice to have a waterbirth. If something brings about more anxiety, then modify that plan. I realized that I didn’t like the water level going above my belly, so we drained the water a bit and I felt more grounded. There are things you can do to create a birth experience that works for you. Sometimes in labor, you can’t articulate what you need, but your midwife is there to support you. At Breath of Life, you will always be an active participant through every decision regarding your labor, birth, and postpartum experience. 


Additional resources:

Waterbirth International: https://waterbirth.org/