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A Complete Guide to Water Birth


Water birth consists of giving birth in a tub of warm water, typically at a medical facility, though still not mainstream. Interest has grown due to evidence suggesting water immersion provides benefits such as pain relief. Likely practiced centuries ago, home water births became popular around the 1970s and 1980s mostly in Europe. Advocates argue that the buoyancy, warmth, and calmer atmosphere lessen the severity of labor and the need for anesthesia. While natural water birth now occurs internationally with safety protocols in place, further research on short and long-term impacts on mothers and newborns remains needed.

With major open questions still unsettled, proponents maintain that water birth benefits offer women empowerment and an enhanced birthing process overall. This article overviews water birth’s background, proposed perks and issues, procedures, and what expectant mothers should consider.

What is a Water Birth?

A water birth refers to the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water, usually around 95-100°F. Typically, a woman labors in a birthing pool or tub located in a hospital, birthing center, or sometimes at home. During a water birth, the pregnant woman enters the birthing pool at any time during labor – some when labor begins and others during the active pushing stage. The warm water aims to provide a calming, relaxing environment for the laboring mother. The water also offers physical support through buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure.

When ready to deliver, the mother may lift herself out of the water or remain immersed as the baby emerges, possibly underwater. Usually, she is assisted by a doctor, midwife, or doula during delivery. After birth, the newborn is gently lifted out of the water and handled similarly to a traditional land birth, receiving any needed care right away, while the umbilical cord may be cut underwater. Both mother and baby are closely monitored before, during, and after the delivery while in the tub.

Why Do People Give Birth in Water?

Many women choose water birth because they believe it offers a gentler entry for the baby into the world. The warm water can feel similar to the amniotic fluid in the womb. The environment also tends to feel calmer and more private for the laboring mother. For many, water immersion provides significant pain relief and the ability to relax the body, making contractions more bearable. Some see it as a personal choice aligned with their birthing preferences.

What are the Benefits of Water Birth?

The primary advantage of water birth appears to be improved pain management. However, it has numerous benefits for both – the mother and the baby!

For the Birthing Person

  • Relaxation: The warmth of the water not only reduces stress and blood pressure but also creates a soothing ambiance, contributing to overall relaxation during labor.
  • Ease of Movement: Buoyancy allows for freedom of movement, providing comfort and helping the birthing person find optimal positions for a smoother birthing experience.
  • Improved Circulation: As the water triggers the release of endorphins, it enhances blood flow and oxygen delivery to both the birthing person and the baby.
  • Reduced Risk of Tearing: The warm water promotes a relaxed perineum, minimizing the likelihood of severe tearing and contributing to a gentler delivery.
  • Privacy and Focus: The intimate setting of a water birth fosters a sense of privacy, allowing the birthing person to stay focused on the birthing experience and create a deeper emotional connection.

For the Baby

  • Eases Birth Stress: The warm water creates a serene environment, reducing stress for the baby as they enter the world.
  • Familiar Environment: The water mimics the amniotic fluid, providing a familiar and comforting transition for the baby from the womb to the outside world.

Risks of Water Birth

While water birth offers unique benefits, it’s crucial to consider these potential risks.

  • Infection Risk: Full-body water immersion increases the risk of infection for both the mother and the baby, as blood, fluids, and other natural byproducts of labor mix with the water.
  • Limited Pain Management Options: Epidurals and certain pain relief medications are not available in the water, potentially restricting pain management choices during the birthing process.
  • Potential Delays in Interventions: Delays in moving out of the tub for necessary interventions during the pushing stage or actual delivery can pose challenges, particularly in emergencies requiring swift medical action.
  • Risk of Overheating and Dehydration: Both the mother and the baby face increased risks of overheating and dehydration, especially if the water temperature is not carefully monitored.
  • Water Inhalation Risk: Water inhalation is potentially risky for both the mother and the baby, although this is rare. Proper training and supervision are crucial to mitigate this risk.
  • Umbilical Cord Issues: Though extremely rare, issues with the umbilical cord, such as tearing or wrapping around the baby’s neck, may occur, requiring prompt and decisive action from the medical team.

Considering a Water Birth at a Hospital


Historically, water births were commonly linked to home births or standalone birth centers. However, a significant shift has occurred in recent times. Modern hospital-based birth centers now embrace water birth at hospitals as a mainstream option for labor and delivery. This evolution enables pregnant individuals to experience the soothing benefits of warm water while ensuring ready access to state-of-the-art medical care when necessary.

How to Have a Water Birth?

Women choosing to undergo a water birth should initiate an open conversation with their healthcare provider to discuss health status, pregnancy history, and personal preferences. This dialogue helps determine if you meet the criteria, like having a low-risk, full-term pregnancy. Once cleared and on-board with this birthing option, evaluate appropriate settings whether a properly equipped hospital or an aligned birthing center. Select wherever you feel most supported to accommodate your water birth vision.

Craft a detailed birth plan outlining your intentions for pool use like optimal timing for entering the water, ideal positions for delivery, possible exit indications, and other contingencies. For assistance creating and executing this plan, consider a midwife specially trained in water births or an OBGYN equally knowledgeable. Whoever makes up your birthing team, ensure coordination on protocols like proper water temperature and hygiene to maintain a safe atmosphere.

When immersed in active labor, exercise autonomy on movements feeling right for your body and baby’s positioning. As you feel the baby descend during delivery, you maintain control over lifting out of the warm water or remaining immersed until the head gently emerges. Unique underwater reflexes prevent any breathing efforts until clear of the surface when natural stimuli prompt that crucial first breath. With informed planning and choices, women can better achieve this special birthing option.

What to Wear for Water Birth

When gearing up for a water birth, picking the right clothes is key for comfort and practicality. Loose and light options like swimsuits or sports bras with shorts are great for moving comfortably in the water during labor. Some hospitals even offer special tops or gowns made just for water deliveries, making it easy to move around.

Here are some clothing options to consider:

  • Bikini Tops: A widely chosen option, providing comfort and allowing easy access for childbirth.
  • Maternity Tankini Tops: Offering modesty with extended coverage, these tops are perfect for skin-to-skin contact.
  • Maternity Swim Dress/Birth Swimwear: Combining style and functionality, these options provide both comfort and ease of movement.
  • Tank Tops or Camisoles: Simple and practical, allowing flexibility during the labor process.
  • Birthing Skirts: Providing coverage while ensuring unrestricted movement.
  • Short Gowns: Comfortable and designed for easy access during childbirth.
  • Birthing Bras: Specifically crafted for childbirth, offering support and functionality.
  • Bandeaus: Minimalistic yet practical for those seeking a simpler option.
  • Crop Tops: Striking a balance between coverage and freedom of movement.

Thinking about what comes next is smart too. Disposable underwear and super-absorbent pads are handy for dealing with postpartum blood loss and lochia after leaving the birthing tub. Whether it’s your personal choice or something the hospital provides, these clothing options help create a comfy and supportive atmosphere for both you and your little one.

Can You Have an Epidural with a Water Birth?

The administration of an epidural, a common form of pain relief during labor, is generally not compatible with a water birth. While water births offer a unique and soothing environment for laboring, the logistics of administering an epidural in the water pose challenges. Epidurals require precise placement of the anesthesia in the epidural space of the spine, a task that is intricate and typically performed in a controlled, dry setting.


Therefore, women opting for a water birth often forego the option of an epidural, relying instead on the natural pain-relieving benefits and buoyancy provided by the warm water. It’s essential for expectant mothers to discuss pain management preferences and options with their healthcare provider to make informed decisions tailored to their birthing plan.


While still an alternative option, water birth has gained increasing acceptance and availability – from home settings to hospitals – due to purported benefits like pain relief. However, risks around infection and limited interventions do persist. Ultimately a woman’s autonomy, choices, and support system during the incredible birthing process matter most. If aligned with personal goals and properly executed, a water birth can empower mothers and gently welcome new lives. Yet every birth unfolds uniquely.

As long as mom and baby remain the priority – in or out of water – a “perfect” birth can assume many forms. At its core, bringing forth new life is an intimate, transformative miracle worth mindful planning and presence.

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