Fewer tears and equal safety with water births

"The long and short of it is that if you use proper techniques… the outcomes are very good." (Credit: Getty Images)

Water births are no more risky than land births, and women in the water group sustain fewer first and second-degree tears, research shows.

Researchers analyzed 397 births in water and 2,025 births on “land” from two midwifery practices. There were no differences in outcomes between water birth and land birth for neonatal intensive care admissions, and postpartum hemorrhage rates were similar for both groups.

“The long and short of it is that if you use proper techniques… the outcomes are very good,” says Lisa Kane Low, professor of nursing at the University of Michigan and senior author of the paper. “They mirror what we see in international studies of water birth.”

More facilities should offer water birth and have guidelines for implementing it, says coauthor Ruth Zielinski, clinical associate professor of nursing.

In a water birth, the woman gives birth in a water-filled tub rather than a bed. Few US hospitals or birth centers offer tub births because of perceived risk to the newborn, mainly suggested by case studies of neonatal infections or cord tearing.

Professional organizations tend to agree that women in labor should have access to water for comfort, but not all support birth in the water. This means hospitals must make women leave the tub before the birth.

When born in water, babies take their first breath when removed from the tub. Until then, their lungs are filled with water, which is displaced when they hit the air and breathe. The connected umbilical cord provides oxygen.

It’s important not to re-submerge babies. At the University of Michigan, they are birthed in the water, brought out almost immediately, and we’re careful to not re-submerge them, Zielinski says. Mom and baby exit the tub with help and warm blankets, typically prior to delivering the placenta so that blood loss can be more accurately calculated.

Zielinski says more studies are needed to understand the satisfaction level of women who give birth in water.

The study appears in the journal Birth.

Source: University of Michigan