Paging Dr. Grunebaum: Water Births May Help Mom, But What About Baby?
One of the labor topics that has always fascinated me is the concept of water birth. I know many women who find this idea appealing. After all, who doesn’t find a warm bath relaxing? No better time to work on relaxation than while in labor. But of course my mind can’t help but wonder about a number of things: is it safe for the baby? Is it safe for the mom? Are there benefits to it? And what, exactly, does the water look like once its all done? Must say, that last one has kept me up at nights! In another two part series, I’ve asked two of my contributors to share their expert opinions on the matter. Yesterday, we heard from the Northeast Doulas about why water birth may be for you. Today, Dr. Amos Grunebaum of BabyMed.com weighs in on why you should think twice before you book that birthing tub.
According to Wikipedia, a water birth refers to childbirth, usually human, that occurs in water.
There are some misunderstandings as to what exactly a water birth refers to, as it may refer to:
1. Women laboring in water during the early part of labor, with pushing and delivery occurring outside the water
2. Women laboring in water during the second pushing stage then delivering outside the water
3. Babies born while women are in water but the baby is born outside the water
4. Babies born under water then removed from the water shortly afterwards
There is no major culture known on earth where pregnant women routinely deliver a baby under water. The only land mammals known to mate and deliver under water are hippos.
The few scientific studies done on labor in water (but not water birth itself) have shown that women who labor in the water during the early stages of labor need less pain control such as epidurals. So there appear to be some maternal benefits to laboring, but not delivering, in water.
However, considering the many advances we have made over the last decades in improving the safety of childbirth, the main consideration when planning a water birth should be the safety for the newborn baby.
The first question therefore should be if there is an advantage to the baby from being born in water. What is clear is that there is no known advantage to the newborn baby from a water birth. The advantages of laboring in water are only for the mother. There are none for the baby.
But could there be a disadvantage to the baby from being born in water? The answer is a clear “yes”. Not only are there no scientifically known advantages for the baby, but there are numerous case reports of babies born with adverse outcomes after an actual water birth. The concerns for serious harm include serious infections, aspiration of water by the baby, seizures, respiratory distress syndrome, snapped umbilical cords, brain damage, and actual drownings of babies.
Women considering an actual delivery of the baby in or under water should be informed that there is no known advantage to the baby and that the safety to the baby of actual water births or under water births has not been scientifically proven and can be potentially risky. Women need to balance their own comfort laboring and delivering in water against the absence of known safety for the baby and the known potential risks to the baby from a water birth.