What's Involved With a Water Birth?

What's Involved With a Water Birth?

Water immersion is defined as a water depth that allows the mother to have water that covers her belly completely and comes up to her breast level. It's thought that amounts less than this might not create the buoyancy effect or promote the chemical and hormonal changes that are claimed to enhance a more rapid labor. After about 30 minutes, the body responds by releasing more oxytocin (a hormone that helps cause contractions).
Some research has shown that labor may slow down or stop if the woman enters the bath too soon. Some guidelines that are in place prevent a woman from entering the bath before the start of active labor, which may be defined as an established labor pattern and dilation of the cervix to 4 cm or more.
However, other observational studies have shown that women who are allowed to immerse in water during early labor may let go of fear and be able to relax, which can help progress labor to a more active phase. Many attendants may follow a "trial of water" method, which is to allow the mother to immerse when she feels ready and see how she responds.
Some studies have shown that the chemical and hormonal effects of immersion tend to take effect after about 20 minutes and then peak around 90 minutes. Therefore, some attendants may recommend women get out and walk around after about two hours of initial immersion. After about 30 minutes of a change in environment, the mother can get back in the water to reactivate the chemical and hormonal process to increase oxytocin levels.
However, it is important to note that each woman is different and each will respond in different ways. There are no set guidelines, as a water birth will be different for each woman and how her body responds to it.

Making a Decision

There is no one answer that is right for all women. The decision to have a water birth will be a mother's personal decision after weighing the risks and benefits. However, it's a good idea to talk to your care provider about whether you have any factors that may increase your risk for complications during a water birth.
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