Once a laboring woman enters water, she rarely wants to come out. Why is that?
Warm water is a wonderful and natural way to relieve pain and ease sore muscles. By taking away gravity, it is easier for the laboring mother to move into any position she wants, as the pressure of the water supports her body, especially the uterus. Birthing tubs, for those having a homebirth, are very affordable these days, and can be ordered online for around $40. These are regular children's tubs, big enough for two adults to fit in.
What are the benefits of water for labor?
The heat increases blood perfusion and helps the tissues of the perineum to stretch, thus decreasing possibilities of tearing. Also, as the muscles relax in the water, the mother's stress hormones, including adrenaline, are decreased, giving her a sense of well being and of let go.
By letting go, she increases her level of endorphins (natural pain killers) and oxytocin (the hormone that is needed for contractions to happen), and the pay off is usually a smoother, faster labor.
The benefits for the newborn are manifold. The baby leaves the warm amniotic waters of the womb and transitions into the world by entering the warm waters of the tub, which is usually maintained at body temperature (around 98 degrees Fahrenheit). Studies in pre- and perinatal psychology (www.birthpsychology.com) have shown the lifelong effects of the birth trauma on newborns. By entering gently into the world, through water, the trauma of birth is minimized and the imprint in the newborn's mind is one of safety, love and trust.
How safe is waterbirth? Are there any dangers?
It is believed that one of the main triggers of inhaling air for the newborn is contact with the cool air. Before birth, the baby's needs for oxygen are met by the umbilical cord. As the baby is born in the water, he/she still receives oxygen from the cord attached to the placenta, and is gently brought to the surface and into mom's chest. Therefore, the baby's first breath happens in the safety of its mother's arms, decreasing the trauma caused by the very first breath. The tub has been previously thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, and the laboring mother usually enters the tub by transition (around 7cms dilation), thus preventing prolonged exposure to harmful bacteria. As far as monitoring the baby underwater, midwives carry a waterproof Doppler, which allows them to regularly make sure the baby is safe.