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Birth & More | Birth Options

Giving Birth Naturally: The Waterbirth Experience

Making a splash
All about water birth

An increasingly popular choice for expectant mothers who want to go the natural route, water birth is a refreshing alternative to conventional birthing options.

Gaining popularity worldwide, the concept of water birth is simple: assisted by a midwife or doctor, the mom-to-be delivers her baby while immersed in a bath or small pool of tepid water. Having been practiced around the world for centuries, this birthing method is now offered in clinics throughout South Africa, and is also favoured by women who choose to have their baby at home.

Water birth offers many advantages, on physical, psychological and practical levels. Perfect for low-risk pregnancies, it is worth considering if you envisage a warm, nurturing and unstressed birth experience. If such a thing as chilled-out childbirth exists, this is it!

Photo courtesy of Xanthe Roxburgh: life, laughter, love

A whale of a time
What to expect from the water birth experience

If you are interested in having a water birth, speak to your doctor or midwife about your options. Many local clinics and hospitals have a dedicated birthing tub or pool. The tub is usually in a well-appointed, homely room which makes for a peaceful and welcoming setting. Alternatively, you can buy or hire a pool to use at home if you wish to have a home birth.

Naturally, every labour and birthing experience is different. However, the water birth guidelines and procedures are fairly standard:

  • Water temperature in the small pool or tub is maintained at around 36°C
  • The mom-in-waiting enters the water when she is around 5cm dilated
  • The midwife or doctor remains outside the tub, while the mother’s partner can join her in the water
  • Should contractions slow down, the mom is encouraged to step out of the water for a while
  • All examinations are carried out in the water
  • When baby is born, he is given to his mom and encouraged to breastfeed straight away
  • Babies have inbuilt mechanisms that prevent them from inhaling water during the birth
  • Sometimes mom is offered the choice of ‘catching’ her baby after the last contraction

Untroubled waters
The benefits and joys of water birth

Mothers who have previously experienced a water birth and midwives alike sing the praises of this childbirth option. Benefits far outweigh possible concerns and drawbacks, and include:

  • Relaxation and comfort
    Every woman knows that a warm soak can be incredibly soothing, and this is especially true while in labour. In the case of water birth, water acts as a powerful relaxant, inhibiting stress hormones which can interfere with a smooth labour, instead encouraging the release of endorphins, which offer natural pain relief and a positive outlook
  • Buoyancy and mobility
    Women who experience labour while immersed in water have an advantage over those who have a conventional labour due to the fact that the buoyancy afforded by the water allows her to instinctively and easily move into positions that offer her more comfort, which allows for an active birth. This movement opens up the pelvis, allowing the baby to descend
  • Pain relief (less medication)
    Apart from the release of pain-reducing and feel-good hormones, water has a pain-relieving effect. Research shows that women who have water births request epidurals less often. The need for caesarean-sections is also far less likely
  • Shorter labour
    Experts believe, due to the comfort that water immersion provides, that water birth can often result in a shorter, less stressful labour than conventional methods
  • Less tearing
    Water softens the perineum, reducing both perineal trauma and the likelihood of an episiotomy
  • Peaceful entry in the world for baby
    Babies are in a watery environment for 9 months, so it makes sense that the journey from womb to warm water is much gentler than being suddenly yanked into bright, dry air. Midwives encourage mom and baby to stay in the water for up to an hour, which promotes early bonding
  • Special, private experience
    The water birth room, whether at a clinic or at home, is generally much more serene than a typical room in a hospital or maternity ward. Often dimly-lit with soothing music playing in the background, this peaceful setting can add a great deal to both the birthing experience and the mother’s memories of this special event. The value of happy recollections of the birth of a child cannot be understated

No sitting duck
Know the risks and ask the right questions

If you are considering a water birth as your chosen labour method, you will no doubt have a hundred questions for your midwife or doctor. Our advice is this: write a list, then get answers to each and every query and concern. Ensure that your medical caregiver is experienced in water birth and that your and your baby’s safety is their first priority. And, most importantly, rely on your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!

“To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning
of the word miracle.” – Paul Carvel


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