Water birth. It’s one of the main reasons people are interested in out-of-hospital birth, but there are a lot of myths around it.
We talked to some of the Board-Certified Nurse Midwifes here at Baby+Co. to debunk some of the most common myths around water birth and to uncover why hydrotherapy – laboring in a tub or shower – is really so popular among the mamas in our centers.
Myth: Giving birth in water is more beneficial than a “land” birth.
The benefit of hydrotherapy isn’t so much about the actual birth – it’s about the labor.
While the baby is totally fine whether the birth takes place in the tub or on “land,” there is a substantial amount of evidence that shows that using water – or hydrotherapy – in labor helps ease the labor process.
Some of the best known benefits of hydrotherapy include
- Relaxation during and between contractions
- Reduction of blood pressure
- Facilitation of cervical dilation
- Increased release of endorphins, which helps reduce pain and anxiety during labor
Water birth isn’t necessarily superior to a land birth, and a land birth isn’t necessarily superior to a water birth. But water definitely helps.
Myth: Babies can’t breathe underwater.
When a baby is born, their lungs are still fluid-filled, and their source of oxygen is still coming from the umbilical cord.
The transitional physiology after birth in those first few minutes of life clears the lungs of any fluid. This is why that first cry is so important – it takes most babies a little bit to breathe (or “aspirate”) on land.
Myth: You can’t labor in the tub if your water has broken.
For many people, water breaks early in labor. This myth exists because of the belief that water flows “up” the vaginal canal, but there is research that shows that water does not migrate up the canal.
As long as everything in birth is progressing normally, there is no reason to believe that water will introduce infection once your water has broken.
Myth: The water gets dirty because moms will pass stool during labor.
Real talk: Babies being born are exposed to mom’s bacteria in her stool even in land births. Researchers think it’s probably good for newborns to have some exposure to that.
A few important notes here:
First, providers are very adept at scooping out stool, or anything that’s in the water, with fish strainers.
Pragmatically speaking, though, in longer labors, when tubs have been heated for a long period of time, providers should swap out the water at least once to reduce the likelihood of infection. (At Baby+Co., this is standard practice.)
Myth: You can’t listen to the baby when mom is in water.
You can use waterproof dopplers for auscultation, which is the technical term for listening to the baby.
Intermittent auscultation is the style of fetal monitoring that we do at Baby+Co. If you absolutely need continuous fetal monitoring, you’re not a great candidate for water birth. However, waterproof leads for continuous monitoring do exist and can be used in the hospital setting.