Today’s births are often much kinder and gentler, and many women gratefully and wholeheartedly embrace this trend. Some, in an effort to experience the pinnacle of peace and serenity at their births, choose to have their babies in water. Many of our local birthing facilities and hospitals now offer water births, so if you are interested in having one, speak to your doctor about it.
Benefits of Water Birth
Today there are thousands of midwives and obstetricians all over the world who attend women as they give birth in water.
Mary Ann Richardson, a local certified professional midwife, attends women who give birth at home, many of whom choose to deliver in water. In fact, Richardson herself believes so strongly in the benefits of water birth that she provides a birthing tub as an option for her clients.
“Sometimes it is frustrating as a midwife to realize you can’t take away the intensity of labor for a woman; but when I help a woman down into the water and watch her melt, it is a supreme relief for everyone — especially the mother. Water during labor is like a really cheap epidural,” she says.
Richardson also feels that the process of water birth is much gentler for both mother and baby than a regular birth. She believes the buoyancy of the water helps ease the pressure from the baby’s head on the mother’s perineum as it is birthing. “It just seems that I see less tearing and a faster recovery with my water birth clients,” she adds, “and I am also awed by how water seems to facilitate the bonding between mom and baby. Babies born in the water seem so much more calm, trusting and alert.”
Risks Associated with Water Births
But water birth has had its share of criticism as well. In recent years, many have begun to question whether human babies were meant to be born underwater.
Ina May Gaskin, world-renowned midwife and lead midwife at The Farm in Summertown, Tenn., (for more information visit thefarm.org) says she and her colleagues are glad to service their clients who desire water birth. “Laboring in the water is so beneficial. In my experience, 70 percent of women will respond to water during their labors in such a way as to make the desire for pain meds non-existent,” Gaskin says.
But Gaskin has concerns when it comes to water birth, too. “It’s all in how it’s done,” she stresses. “Let’s face it, human babies are meant to be born into air; so if we’re going to do water birth, then we need to do it safely. The important factors for a safe water birth include a sterile environment, the right water temperature and immediate air for the baby’s lungs.”
Gaskin feels, however, that despite the necessary safety precautions, water birth is here to stay. She believes the awareness of and demand for water birth will continue to grow in the United States, and she looks forward to the day when women can get whatever they want (water birth included) even in a hospital environment.
To Waterbirth or Not to Waterbirth?
Many professionals feel that water birth has been and will continue to be a safe and enjoyable birthing alternative. Others, however, see it as a probable departure from the natural order of things and believe air to be the most natural destination for a birthing baby.
Despite the controversy, water continues to be a powerful force for birthing women. It calls to them with its warm, relaxing and peacefully surreal environment. With both the pros and cons in mind, each birthing woman must decide what is right for her and her little bundle.
Jessica Carlyon is a freelance writer and mother of five children.