Water birth is an alternative way of giving childbirth; the mother is immersed in pool or tub of warm water. The baby is delivered under water and rises to the surface for 1st breathing. When the infant has reached 9 months inside the amniotic sac of his mother, the baby is deemed eligible for this kind of birth. A provider of health care is always present during the water birth. In the clean, warm water, the expectant mother is advised to move around and change her position. The technique is believed to ease the discomforts and facilitate the process of childbirth.
In the 1960s, a Russian named Igor Charkovsky introduced the water birth method in Moscow. In the late 1970s, a French hospital got its initial setting for water birth through Michael Odent, MD. This method then spread to the United States in the 1980s because of Michael Rosenthal, MD's efforts in creating the 1st birthing center there.
Supporters of this method claim that the warm water of the tub will increase the blood flow to the uterus and subsequently facilitate muscle contractions. The buoyancy provided by the water is said to provide support to the mother's back. Additionally, the water is thought to soothe the muscles and reduce the discomfort of contractions.
Charkovsky mentions that the mother's state of mind plays a significant role in childbirth. With the numerous advantages that water birth brings for the expectant parents and baby, it is also important to note that disadvantages are also possible. These are:
- The blood stream of the mother can receive water and the "theoretical risk of water embolism" can occur.
- Water aspiration can happen when the baby is stressed in the birth canal or the umbilical cord becomes twisted. When water is inhaled and goes to the lungs, death can result.
- As the baby rises to the surface of the water, there is a possibility for the umbilical cord to be removed by accident.
- Labor can be prolonged due to the contractions being relaxed.
- The perineum, found between the vagina and anus, can have more tearing.
- The baby can be infected with bacteria that come from the water.
- The blood loss of the expectant mother is considerable.
- The expectant mother is at high-risk.
- The mother-to-be experiences complications such as high blood pressure, presence of meconium in the sac, distress of the fetus, and fetal heart rate concern.
- More than 1 birth is expected.
- Breech position of the baby, with bottom down, is observed.
- Premature infant is expected.
- A very long pushing stage of labor exists.
In cases where a tub is not present or a healthcare provider is not familiar with the procedure, hydrotherapy during labor can be performed and the infant delivery will not be held in the tub. The popularity of water birth has grown since its infancy. It is practiced in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The disadvantages of this method of childbirth remain to be studied as it is considered a new form of gentle infant delivery.