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Everything You Need To Know About Water Births

Water therapy has been used for centuries to heal the body, and relax the mind. The use of water for labour and birth can be traced back to ancient times. Water births are quickly becoming recognised as a safe and gentle way to bring your baby into the world, and offer some great benefits to mothers who are looking for a natural alternative to pain relief.

The theory behind water birth is that since the baby has already been in the amniotic fluid sac for nine months, birthing into a similar environment is gentler for the baby, and less stressful for the mother.

Water can help you relax and make the contractions seem less painful, and can shorten the length of labour. Because of the relaxing effect of water, it could reduce the need for pain-relieving drugs.

READ MORE: Home Birth In Ireland: What Do You Need To Know

A Real Option

Some midwives, maternity hospitals and a growing number of obstetricians believe that reducing the stress of labour and delivery will reduce fetal complications. Water birth should always occur under the supervision of a qualified midwife.

The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital is the only maternity hospital in the Republic of Ireland currently facilitating water births. Before the introduction of the new policy, the only way to have a water birth in Ireland was by hiring a self-employed community midwife, who would facilitate a water birth in your own home. A number of other maternity units around the country do have birth pools, but they are used with the caveat that mums must leave the pool once they feel the urge to push.

Understand The Risks

Giving birth in water has resulted in a small number of serious incidents that do not occur out of water, such as water inhalation and near drowning. While these are very rare situations, it is important to know that they have occurred in order for you to make an informed choice.

READ MORE: What Can I Do To Prepare Myself For Birth?

The Coombe will screen women for risk factors in order to assess suitability for use of the birthing pool. Both the mother and baby are monitored closely by the midwife using the pool.

Conditions For Using The Pool

The Coombe outlines a number of conditions that must be adhered to for birthing in the pool:

  • You must be healthy, with an uncomplicated pregnancy and be at term (37-42 weeks).
  • The water should be clean and comfortably warm (not warmer than 37.5°C), with no additives.
  • When sitting in the pool, the water should reach the level of your breasts.
  • You can leave the pool at any time they wish.
  • You are encouraged to leave the pool at regular intervals (two hourly) to use the toilet facilities.

READ MORE: How Long Will Labour Last?

Expert Advice

Ruth Banks, Clinical Skills Facilitator - Delivery Suite at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital answers a few questions about water births.

1. What are the main benefits of having a water birth to mother and baby?

Water provides great pain relief. It's very relaxing and most women describe a feeling of immediate relief on entering the pool. They describe the feeling as being ‘hugged’ by the warm water surrounding them, giving them a sense of comfort and privacy. Water also facilitates mobility, making it easier for women to adopt a variety of positions during labour. Women describe water birth as being very calm and gentle.

Studies show that more women have a normal birth when they have used water immersion for labour/birth. They feel in control and with guidance, they are encouraged to follow their instincts and to work with their bodies. For baby, it is a gentle birth following which the baby is immediately placed skin-to-skin with the mother, facilitating bonding and closeness. 

2. Can you use other forms of pain relief while using a birthing pool?

Gentle, controlled and mindful breathing is very useful. Women can also use Entonox (gas and air). Some women also listen to hypnobirth recordings or to music, either on the radio or their own selection. Soft lighting adds to the general sense of calm and privacy in the room and some women enjoy a shower on their lower back or a massage. This is where partners can feel particularly useful and included!

READ MORE: What Happens On The Day Of The Birth?

3. How is the baby monitored during the water birth experience?

The Coombe's birthing pool is reserved for women who are perceived to be low risk, between 37-42 weeks gestation and who are healthy with an uncomplicated pregnancy. The baby’s heartbeat is listened to with a hand-held waterproof doppler every 15 minutes during the first stage of labour, and every five minutes during the second stage of labour (after contractions and for a period of one minute). The woman is also monitored and if the midwife has any concerns with either the mother's or the baby’s wellbeing, the woman would be asked to leave the pool for further monitoring.

Mum’s story

Kim Barrett gave birth to her son Richie in the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. She used the birthing pool for the labour and delivery.

“I decided before I became pregnant that I would try a water birth. I was addicted to watching One Born Every Minute and I had seen women having water births. I thought it looked like an amazing way to bring your baby into the world and I have always enjoyed being in the water anyway. My antenatal care was the combined care scheme between Tallaght and The Coombe. I was really happy that The Coombe offered the facility of water births.

READ MORE: Breathing Techniques For Birth

"I was due on the 8th of December – my waters broke on the 10th of December at 1.20am. My husband and I had just moved house and I had been keeping myself busy cleaning while I waited for the baby to arrive. I had no contractions before my waters broke and I was advised to come to the hospital once the contractions became more intense. Once I arrived to the Coombe, I was 2cm dilated and I was told to walk around for a half an hour. So I paced the corridors and I went back to the assessment unit where my waters broke again. Things were moving fast – I was now 5cm dilated.

"Once I was sorted in the delivery suite, I was settled into the labour pool. It’s such a lovely, relaxed spacious room – it really helped to make me feel calm. I got in and laboured in the pool – I was allowed gas and air as an additional pain reliever. I was worried that I might need more pain relief, but the water really took the edge off and it felt like a big, warm hug.

"At this point, I was told that I could labour in the pool but that the baby wouldn’t be delivered as you must have a trained midwife present for a water pool delivery. I was now a full 10cm dilated.  But it actually turned out that I did deliver in the pool as the first midwife finished her shift and a water birth trained midwife took over.

READ MORE: 10 Things I'd Tell My Best Friend... About Giving Birth

"I got into an all fours position for the actual delivery – this makes a lot of sense from a gravity point of view! The midwives constantly checked the baby and I, which was very reassuring. At that point, I had stopped taking the gas and air. My son Richie was born just before 11am and weighed a healthy 9lbs. It was all very quick as I delivered the placenta in the bath quite soon after. I would 100% recommend water births to other women. The Coombe midwives are brilliant and they made me feel like I was in completely safe hands."

Would you consider a water birth? Tell us in the comments below.


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