Should you go for a water birth?
This is an amazing photo of a water birth. It is quite normal for babies, as in this photo, to be a bit pale when they're born; that 'paleness' disappears quite quickly in a straightforward birth, often in minutes, as the baby takes their first breaths. There can be a little pressure on the cord in the final moments of birth which may cause the baby to slow their heart rate, causing the paleness. After a few breaths, this paleness disappears as their heart rate, breathing and oxygen levels stabilise. The often striking (!) appearance of new born babies is probably a good post for another time!
Babies born into water are often more calm, possibly because birth pool births are more likely to be straightforward. Mothers report great pain management from the water which is likely to be a combination of muscles relaxing and releasing tension; increased oxytocin (birth hormone) levels which cause a mother to receive less pain signals to the brain; and endorphin release (body's natural pain reliever) wherever the warm water touches. Anecdotally, mothers report a sense of privacy, security and control which may help her to feel even more calm and possibly increase oxytocin levels further.
Water birth has been associated with less perineal (around the vagina) tears. Women don't feel a tear when it happens, they just feel the relief of the baby's head being born. If stitches are needed then the area is numbed and gas & air can be used, so this is not usually an issue either. (More rarely (around 5%); a woman may experience a tear that needs to be repaired more thoroughly in theatre under an epidural). However, tears can be very tender in the days following birth and can make getting up and down to to the baby more of a challenge. So women are often keen to try techniques that could help to limit the risk. Mmmmm....another possibility for a blog post!
There are reasons why a water birth may not be possible once labour begins. If any of Mum's or Baby's vital signs are out of range, it is not usually recommended. All units have their own policies and it's ok to ask about a pool, whatever your situation. Some units have waterproof, cordless continuous monitoring for a baby's heart rate if there are minor concerns. All units have waterproof hand held intermittent monitors for keeping a close eye on your baby during a pool birth. Why not have a chat with your midwife about your unit's policies?
Sometimes women feel that the only way to guarantee a pool birth is to opt for a home birth and hire a pool. However, women can change their minds and find they just don't use the pool, or sometimes babies just come too quickly for Mum to be able to use the pool she hired! Flexibility with birth planning is always key; see how you feel on the day.
Because I often hear of women feeling very sad that they didn't get to use a pool for their labour or birth; I love to encourage women to widen their thinking and planning to use warm water from the end of their pregnancy and on into their labour. Perhaps warm baths or showers; hands and/or feet in bowls of warm water as they labour; towels or large flannels soaked in warm water and draped over their shoulders/back/bump/abdomen and so on. Then a birth pool can be the cherry on the cake, rather than the 'be all and end all'. Hopefully that is emotionally protective if a pool birth is much wanted but not possible.
In the BellyTots Birth Pregnancy Relaxation and Exercise Class tomorrow night (Monday 2nd July) we'll be sharing with each other what our ideal birth might look like and ways we could approach labour and birth to get aspects of the ideal into our experience....whatever happens.
Next week - does the water get dirty in a pool birth? I have another amazing photo for you which should answer your question!