Winning the pools

When I brought up the idea of a water birth a couple of months ago, Mr Cath asked what was wrong with a “normal” birth, i.e. lying on a nice, clean, white hospital bed. Turns out this wasn’t just him; he told me after our NCT class that all the male partners had the same preconceived image, gleaned from television, film etc. The couple of guys brave enough to have watched One Born Every Minute (which has, to this day, never been viewed in our house) might have been able to produce a couple of different options but the majority didn’t understand deviations from the perceived norm either. However, following the class, we have learned that lying down works against the body’s natural gravity during labour: positions such as squatting or being on all fours are much more effective, and are even better if they take place in a birthing pool.

rachelThe one where Rachel has a baby

In the Western world a water birth means experiencing labour and birth in a specially designed birthing pool under the supervision of midwives. Most hospitals will have a few available, either as part of the main hospital or an attached midwife-led birthing unit; alternatively, you can rent or buy one for use at home. Babycentre provides an interesting history of water birth here, suggesting that the first European water birth took place in 1803 in France. After that, it wasn’t until the 1970s that medical practitioners in France and Russia began to explore using water births in earnest. Looking for a way to avoid intervention-led and potentially traumatic “traditional” birth methods, they noted that a “pool environment feels similar to the enveloping warmth of the uterus.” Thus, emerging into a warm, familiar place – as opposed to the cooler air, louder noise and bright lights of the outside – leads to calmer and more relaxed babies.

Water birth is officially approved by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives, as well as the NCT. The NHS also recommends hydrotherapy as a natural pain reliever. The science bit explaining the reasoning behind water births can be found on the RCOG website. There are many potential benefits to the mother as well as the baby, such as:

  • Increased relaxation and natural pain relief
  • Less likely to need an epidural / other strong drugs
  • Shorter and more comfortable labour
  • Less risk of an episiotomy

Disadvantages of water birth do exist, and the pool environment might not suit everyone (it certainly might not suit me when it comes down to it!) RCOG acknowledges that there are “rare but clinically significant risks for the baby born under water. These include respiratory problems (including the possibility of fresh water drowning), cord rupture with haemorrhage, and waterborne infections.” However, it could be argued that there are just as many risks for a birth on dry land. Less scary but more immediate are the potential issues the mother may experience, such as concerns about blood loss afterwards (Mumsnet lists a range of possible disadvantages). If you do need stronger pain relief, you will have to leave the pool. You are also only allowed to opt for a water birth if your pregnancy has been low risk and uneventful.

Following the class, Mr Cath is now as keen on a water birth as I am and his swimmers are packed in the hospital bag (he probably won’t actually join me in the pool, but it is likely he’ll get splashed!) I feel that I might as well try it – it sounds so relaxing and I’ve heard positive reports from people who have done it. Importantly, you can still have gas and air in the pool! If it doesn’t suit me I can just get hauled out, dried off and move to a less wet environment. Which may or may not involve a hospital bed…

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