Hydrotherapy for Labor & Birth
Can Mean Smooth Sailing for Mother & Child
You come home from a long day at work; you're tired and your back hurts. You decide to take a warm bath and emerge feeling much better. So how about women in labor? They're uncomfortable and tired; how about a bath for them?

Hydrotherapy, the use of water for labor and/or birth, is growing in popularity - and rightly so. A recent study from Switzerland analyzed some 5,900 vaginal births, more than 2,000 of which were done in water. The findings were significant in several ways.

Waterbirth mothers were found to have a much lower episiotomy: 12.8% vs. 35.4% for mothers who had a bed birth. Blood loss was less for waterbirth mothers, and they used fewer painkillers. Their newborns scored higher on the Apgar scale than other babies.

The overall conclusion of the study was that waterbirths and other alternative forms of birthing, such as Maia birthing stool, in which the mother assumes a squatting position, do not demonstrate higher risks for mother or child than bed births, if the same medical criteria are used in monitoring and managing them.

Waterbirth has been around for centuries and used in many home births. It is regaining popularity in America as women opt for more control over their birthing experience.

In 1995, according to the Global Maternal Child Health Association, only two U.S. hospitals offered waterbirths. Now more than 120 hospitals have done at least one waterbirth and even more are using showers to help relax laboring women.

The most frequent question of parents considering a waterbirth is "How does the baby breathe?" The start of breathing is a complex physiologic process initiated when the infant's skin makes contact with air; in the aforementioned study, no case of water aspiration or any other perinatal complication of a mother or child was reported.

That is not to say hydrotherapy can be used by everyone. Rather, each woman needs to be assessed by her care provider. Reasons to rule out waterbirth include meconium-stained amniotic fluid, multiple babies, maternal fever, or the need for continuous fetal monitoring.

The list of reasons for encouraging the use of hydrotherapy, at least for labor, is also significant. Its benefits can have a domino effect.

An anxious laboring woman will inevitably find she is calmer and better able to cope with her labor, which in turn will lead to a more efficient labor. An efficient labor will usually end with fewer interventions including pain medication.

Use of hydrotherapy has also been found to lower blood pressure, which is likely due to decreased anxiety and increased comfort in the mother.

Women using this method have told me, "The contractions are much less painful in here", "I think I can skip the epidural", "This makes so much sense, why didn't I do it with my last birth?", and so on.

Women wishing to use hydrotherapy in a labor, which may or may not result in a water birth, should plan ahead and locate a care provider and birthing facility that offers it.

Visit the birth facility ahead of time - they vary in size from a traditional home bathtub to a huge Jacuzzi. Generally speaking, the larger the tub the better, since an average-size pregnant woman may not fit comfortably in a standard-size tub.

Should you find a facility that encourages hydrotherapy but has yet to install tubs, you might rent a portable, soft-sided tub to use there. (Gentle Birth Choices, a book by nurse Barbara Harper, tells where to find one.)

Ask questions of your providers to ensure they are comfortable and experienced with hydrotherapy and water birth. If you find a facility that is right for you, your labor and birthing experience should be smooth sailing.
Article provided by Carol Ann Hughes, Certified Nurse Midwife