A water birth, quite simply, is the process of giving birth while in the water. Typically, this method would include giving birth in either a pool or a bathtub. Small Jacuzzi-like pools can even be rented just for the purposes of having a water birth. Proponents of water birth suggest that there are several benefits to both the baby and the mother in this birthing method.
Water birth has been growing in popularity in the United States since the 1990s. The idea of the water birth, however, goes back much earlier, to the late 1960s, when a French OB started to immerse babies that had just been born in warm water to help make the transition from the womb environment to the outside environment. While the practice is relatively new, there is some research data that does suggest that a water birth can be beneficial to both the baby and the mother.
The advantages of a water birth for the mother can include, first of all, relaxation. The warm water will, often, help the mother who is in labor to relax. It may also help to reduce the amount of adrenaline that the body releases, and it may also cause the release of endorphins. A water birth helps the perineum to be more elastic, and thereby reduces the risk of either tearing or needing an episiotomy. In addition, the mother is much more able to change her position in the water, creating less discomfort. There is even some research that suggests that her body may release more oxytocin, and make her labor more efficient.
A water birth is thought to help the baby, primarily, with transition from the uterus to the real world. The liquid of the water, it is thought, resembles the environment in the uterus. In addition, the water makes light, colors, and noises softer.
There are a variety of objections to water birth, as well. There is concern that the baby may aspirate water. There is also concern that the water may raise the risk of infection. There may be other concerns, as well.
If you are considering a water birth, you should talk to your health care provider to see if there are any reasons unique to your situation that might not make it a good idea.