Childbirth: Guide To Water Births

Giving Birth in Water




Information About Waterbirths
What Prevents The Baby From Drowning?
How Do I Organize A Waterbirth?
What Are The Pros And Cons?
When Should I Enter The Water?
How Much Does It Cost?

Giving Birth
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Guide to Childbirth

Information About Waterbirths

A waterbirth (image) is where a woman delivers in water, usually a shallow pool, hot tub or Jacuzzi. The water simulates an environment similar to the womb where the baby slips from the warm wet womb, into a warm wet birthing pool. This seems to offer comfort and familiarity causing less fetal distress. The baby is immediately pulled out the water and placed in the mother’s arms. As the baby does not breathe until its lungs hit the air, there is no chance of drowning.

Waterbirths were first introduced into the United States in the 1980s as a gentler alternative to traditional birthing methods. The Monadnock Community Hospital, New Hampshire was the first hospital to offer waterbirths in 1991. Today there are over 300 hospitals in America offering the service. Waterbirths are still not however widely advocated by the medical community, largely due to lack of statistical studies. The main advocates are midwives and nurse practitioners. You will need to consider this when choosing your pregnancy healthcare team.

A natural birthing process, a waterbirth can take place at home, in birthing centers or in participating hospitals. There are many videos, pictures and personal stories online to read more about the subject. The safety records of waterbirths are comparable to regular births. A UK study published in 1999 investigated over 4,000 waterbirths and attributed no deaths to the birth process. Recently a Swiss Study entitled Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy also concluded that waterbirths were just as safe as conventional methods. And according to research by Waterbirth International, who surveyed1500 women who had given birth in water, only one stated she would not repeat the experience. Her reason? 'This is number seven, I'm done!'

What Prevents The Baby From Drowning?

This question is one of the most common concerns an expectant mother may have. During a waterbirth once the baby has fully passed out of the mother’s body, it is lifted immediately out of the water, which means it is only under water for about 10 seconds. There is no fear of drowning in this time as the following considerations are also in play:

Before birth the fetus starts to flex its lung muscles, practicing breathing for life on the outside. This is called fetal-breathing movement. At the time of birth the placenta emits a high level of the hormone Prostaglandin which slows those breathing movements down again. So as the baby is born, the fetal lung muscles will not have re-started yet. This is why babies are sometimes gently slapped after delivery and childbirth, to shock them into a reaction.

The second reason is that babies are born experiencing what is called mild hypoxia (or lack of oxygen). It is a built-in response to the birthing process. Hypoxia causes swallowing and not breathing.

It is also thought that the water temperature is another factor which stops the baby from starting to breathe initially. The temperature is close enough to being in the womb, so the baby does not realize yet that it has been 'born'. That said, there have been reports of babies being born in oceans, where the temperature difference is considerably different to the maternal womb, who are just as fine.

Another factor is what is called the Dive Reflex Response, associated with the larynx. The larynx is covered with lots of taste buds, and as soon as it detects water, its shuts, which means the water is swallowed rather than inhaled, thus protecting the lungs.

How Do I Organize A Waterbirth?

Many hospitals have installed birthing pools, but some are still reluctant to make use of their pools. Check which hospitals in your area are more open to the process. Alternatively, choose a birthing center, as they are often run by midwives who tend to be more open to the technique. Alternatively you can buy or rent your own birthing pool for an at-home-birth. This is not an extreme option, but in fact becoming increasingly popular.

What Are The Pros And Cons?


1. Reports indicate that the decent of the baby is twice as fast as traditional hospital births. Many women claim to feel the baby descend and push through the canal better.
2. Women report less pain. The water has a relaxing and warming effect, which is just as effective with labor contractions, as it can be with premenstrual pains. Birthing centers are particularly good for details such as dimming lights and playing relaxing music to help the process.
3. C-Section delivery rates, where complications arise, are one third of the rate of traditional hospital births. This is partly related to fewer drugs being used, including epidural injection, in waterbirths.
4. Mothers may feel empowered by the idea of 'giving birth' rather than 'being delivered', as touch from a healthcare provider is minimal. Also, when immersed in the warm waters of a birthing pool, you can disappear into your own world and labor in your own time. There is an increased feeling of privacy, being cocooned in your own 'womb'. If the pool is large enough to include your partner, it becomes an intimate place to labor together.
5. Just as water aerobics make movement easier during pregnancy, during birth the buoyancy effect of water can help make movement and position changing less awkward. This is particularly important for women with disabilities.
6. Waterbirths offer a less stressful way for your baby to appear in the world.


1. As you push the baby out, there is more chance that you may open your bowels. This is quite normal and midwives are used to this happening. The prospect may just make you uncomfortable. There may be a slight risk of infection as well. Try practicing Kegels exercise during the third trimester of pregnancy as they can help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
2. Some women report that the water does not make contractions less painful and are disappointed if they have to get out of the water to be administered an epidural.
3. If any complications arise you will need to leave the pool. Complications which require fetal monitoring include slow progression of labor, bleeding (see bleeding during pregnancy) and increased blood pressure.
4. In rare instances there are risks of the baby inhaling before being pulled free from the water.
5. As soon as the baby is born, the midwife will swiftly pull it from the water. There have been reported instances where this movement has snapped the umbilical cord. This is not a serious emergency and midwives are now advised to take care and lift the baby more gently.
6. W
omen with any pregnancy complications or with high-risk pregnancies (for example, if they are pregnant with twins), will not usually be allowed to have waterbirths or an at home birth.

When Should I Enter The Water?

Generally you should be encouraged to enter the pool whenever you want to. The only downside of going in too soon is that the water may relax you so much, the contractions slow down. This is why healthcare workers suggest waiting until the cervix is dilated to 5cm. Deep immersion in water is important for full benefits. The pool or bath has to be deep enough to cover the mother up to breast level.

Interesting Questions
How Do I Know If I'm In Labor?
Is A Home Birth Safe?

How Much Does It Cost?

If you choose to have a home waterbirth and buy a portable pool, the average price is about $200 to $300 (£150-£200 in the UK). And there's no need to throw the pool away after, it makes a great toy for older children. If you choose to have a waterbirth in hospital, it should not cost anything extra outside of the regular costs of a vaginal birth. All you need to do is inform your insurance company that you had a vaginal birth. This will need to be factored into any budget you have made for your prenatal care costs.

  Related Articles on WATERBIRTHS

For more about delivering your baby, see the following:

Labor Induction: How labor is induced with medications.
Natural Labor Induction Methods: Natural alternatives to induction.
Stages of Labor: Overview of the 3 stages.

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