Until twenty to thirty years ago, no-one had thought of giving birth in water. Now it’s considered perfectly normal, if not desirable. Why should this be, and how has the change come about?
One of the obstetricians who has made the greatest difference to our view of birth today is Michel Odent. At his unit at Pithivier near Paris in the 1980s he propounded many aspects of natural birth that are widely used today.
When you stop to think for a moment, giving birth in water is very natural. The baby has been living and growing in a confined space and in a fluid environment for the previous nine months. When it is born, the space constriction is removed, the watery environment is removed, and the force of gravity comes into play. How much gentler is it to remove the space constrictions but keep the watery environment and therefore mitigate the force of gravity for a while.
People sometimes worry that the baby will start to breathe while it is still under the water, but in fact it’s the stimulation and shock of the air in the lungs that causes the infant to take its first breath.
From the mother’s point of view, giving birth in water can be more comfortable. The beneficial effect of the water is most helpful if the birthing pool is not used for too long; probably for about two hours. Usually a mother will enter the pool when she is about 5cms dilated, and the effect can be quite dramatic in terms of speeding up labour and increased comfort.
If there is delay in cutting the cord, the baby is still receiving oxygen through its blood via the placenta, so the fact that a few seconds or a minute are used to make its entry into the world more gradual and gentle in no way compromises its health and wellbeing.
Most maternity units these days will have a birthing pool, and you request its use when you ring to say that the baby is on its way so it’s filled ready for you when you arrive. Birthing pools can also be hire for home use, which is arguably the best way of giving birth. You can also buy one off ebay. It’s a good idea to test a home birth pool before you go into labour to make sure the pump and the heating element is working properly.
Modern birth pools are comfortable and strong, maintaining an even temperature of the water. It’s possible to lean forward on the side of the pool, to squat, to kneel, or to be on all fours, which the mother finds most comfortable.
Water births tie in beautifully with some of the methods of giving birth today which are growing in popularity such as HypnoBirthing, giving a birth experience that is more natural, comfortable, calm and gentle, both for the mother and for the baby.