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Want a natural birth? Try water

Lauren Andronici, CNM

If you want to deliver your baby naturally and without medication, you might consider planning a water birth.

During a water birth, a woman labors and pushes in a deep, cushioned tub filled with water that’s about the same temperature as her body. The water creates a sense of weightlessness, which can help a woman relax more between contractions and work with her body. It can decrease stress hormones and even shorten the first stage of labor. It may also improve blood flow and reduce stress for the baby.

The benefits of water are significant, but while water can help a woman better cope with contractions, it doesn’t get rid of the pain. It’s a tool to help a woman achieve the type of delivery she wants and have a positive birth experience.

The right woman for the job

If you’re interested in a water birth, the first step is to talk to your provider about this option. Not everyone is eligible to labor and deliver in water. This type of birth is only recommended for women who have had a healthy pregnancy and don’t have any significant risk factors.

At The Vancouver Clinic, our midwives are credentialed to help with water births. Our midwifery team delivers about 600 babies a year. Many of those women consider a water birth when creating their birth plan.

Information is power

Next, you’ll want to make sure you’re fully informed about the risks and benefits of a water birth and that your partner is onboard. During a water birth, everyone in the room needs to be committed to the process. If you don’t know what to expect, it can be unnerving to see a baby floating under the water. The fact is, babies don’t breathe until they feel the cool air of the outside world on their faces for the first time. So it’s completely safe for the baby.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center offers a water birth class and there are lots of books on the subject. I always recommend that women fully educate and prepare themselves before pursuing this option. Some of the concerns associated with water births include the umbilical cord snapping if the baby is brought up too quickly, and more difficulty assessing overall blood loss after the birth. Choosing a skilled provider can help you minimize these risks.

At the hospital

If both you and your midwife decide to move ahead with a water birth, then the next step is to make it happen. Once you are in active labor and admitted to the hospital, your midwife will request that the tub get filled, a process that takes about 30 minutes. After that you can get in.

Your midwife will check fetal heart tones every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the stage of labor. In order to remain in the tub, both you and the baby must be handling labor well. If a safety concern arises, you may be asked to get out of the tub so your care team can get more information.

You may also choose to get out of the tub at any time. Some women decide to use water during the first stage of labor and to push the baby out on “dry land.” It’s all about what works for your body.

Meeting your baby

Pushing your baby out into water makes for a very gentle delivery. In my experience, babies often appear less stressed and calmer than with other types of births. Once your baby is out, your midwife will help bring your infant up to your chest to keep them warm. Depending on the temperature of the water and your unique situation, the placenta may deliver in or out of the tub. Perineal or vaginal tears are always repaired out of the water.

High satisfaction

My job as a midwife is to help women have the births they want and need. I want women to feel like birth is something they did instead of something that happened to them. I want them to own it as an achievement.

Women who plan and succeed in having a water birth tend to be extremely satisfied with their experience. In fact, I’ve never had a woman not be thrilled with her water birth. As with any unmediated birth, there’s a rush of hormones, euphoria, and relief after an intense amount of effort. Women are simply elated. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing to be part of.

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Lauren Andronici is a certified nurse midwife at Vancouver Clinic. She believes in giving women the education they need to be decision-makers in their own care.