The CDC has recently released a report about two waterbirths in Arizona that seemingly resulted in the infants contracting Legionnaires’ disease after birth in the water. With the release of this report, the birth community is buzzing with the safety of waterbirth. Is it ok to labor and deliver babies in the water? Is there risk of baby taking their first breath under the water? What about a short cord?
Let’s begin by looking at what waterbirth actually is.
Google defines waterbirth as, “a birth in which the mother spends the final stages of labor in a birthing pool, with delivery taking place either in or out of the water.” Actual waterbirth takes place in the water. Since 2006 the United Kingdom, both obstetricians and midwives have joined forces to endorse aquatic labor. The US still ebbs and flows based off of where you are giving birth. Many birth centers and homebirths utilize water for effective pain relief and even for birth.
As a birth doula, I have seen many clients get the relief they need from contractions the minute they become submersed in the water. The “Midwives Epidural” is usually very effective in helping a laboring mama cope through contractions. So why is there so much fear? There may be many factors contained in this.
1. Water birth is not sterile or controlled- historically birth has happened as the media portrays. A woman lying flat on her back, legs up, in a sterile environment-the perfect position for a doctor to “catch” her baby. Even further back in history, we know that most women, if given a choice would never birth in this position. Water birth does not allow for this controlled and sterilized pushing environment. Most OBGYNs and some midwives are not familiar with waterbirth; therefore, they aren’t comfortable. In order for this to change it takes consumers (expectant parents) voicing their needs and concerns.
2. Safety- Of course everyone involved in the birth process is ultimately concerned with the safety of mom and baby. Evidenced Based Birth has a great article on waterbirth and sites, “More than 28,000 waterbirths have been observed in research studies. Although most of these studies were not randomized trials, results from multiple high-quality, large studies are reassuring. Harmful effects in large studies were either non-existent or very rare.” Based on the numbers we know that waterbirth is overall considered safe.
3. Double Edged Coin- ACOG (American College of Gynecology) and AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) feel that there is not enough research to support waterbirth and that it should only be used as an experimental practice. In response, the American College of Nurse Midwives and the American Association of Birth Centers and the Royal College of Midwives all released statements endorsing waterbirth as safe.
So are the two cases of Legionnaires’ disease directly related to waterbirth? Yes. But it was found that the bacteria itself actually came from the tap water used to fill the tubs. One tub was left for one week at 98 degrees, the perfect temperature for it to grow; while the other was filled with tap water. The issue here isn’t actually waterbirth- it was the water used to fill the tub. It does seem however that the CDC is trying to further persuade consumers that waterbirth is not safe.
Waterbirth is a great option for labor and birth. It is an amazing tool to use during labor when the surges become powerful. It reduces the use of epidurals, reduces the risk of episiotomy, and provides overall pain relief for the mom. What an amazing tool.
Make sure you research the risks and benefits to everything, and don’t let one online social media stories inform your decision making. Take Birth Boot Camp and be informed.
If you are interested in what facilities use or allow waterbirth and are in the Boulder/Longmont/Loveland area here’s a list to get you started.