Advantages of Water Birth: My Non-Hospital Birth Story –
Although the advantages of water birth are many and well supported by research, statistics on water birth estimate only about 10% of U.S. hospitals offer any form of water immersion for laboring mothers. Having given birth to my last two children in the water, I honestly find it hard to believe waterbirth isn’t viewed as the default standard of care for laboring women.
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**I am not a medical practitioner of any kind. My thoughts and opinions on waterbirth are the result of my own experiences with giving birth in the water twice and my own extensive research on waterbirth prior to choosing this option. You should always do your own research and consult your own medical providers before making your own choices.
Waterbirth Feels a Million Times Better!
I can’t stress that enough. I had two children out of the water. Some refer to this as bed birth or land birth. After having the third child in the water, there’s no way I would have attempted another birth at a facility that did not offer me a birthing tub.
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If you’ve read my previous birth stories for my oldest daughter and my son, you’ll remember I just missed delivering my son in the new hospital (which had brand new birthing tubs) by about a week. If I had made it to my due date with him, I would have given birth after they moved patients to the new hospital.
Unfortunately, I delivered a week early and missed the new facilities. The birth with my son was not horrible though. It was actually quite pleasant, especially considering he was 10 pounds 14 ounces and I had no pain and no meds.
You can read all about it in Pain-Free, Natural, Midwife-Assisted Birth of My Enormous Baby. You should probably just start with Why I Had the Rest of My Children with a Midwife to find out about my first traumatic birth and the progression that eventually led me to two AMAZING non-hospital waterbirths.
Before my waterbirths, I actually believed the birth of my son was ideal because it was such an improvement on the prior birth. I was wrong! Waterbirth is even better!
Birth with a Midwife Again
I attribute most of the improvement between the birth of my first and second children to switching to a midwife. The midwife way of birth is much more in line with my own philosophy and personal beliefs about birth and healthcare in general.
My midwife cared about what I wanted and was willing to support my choices for my body. This made a world of difference, so there was no question when I found myself pregnant once again that I would return to the same birthing center for prenatal care.
I had considered delivering at the free-standing birthing center with my son, but at that time my insurance would cover 100% of the birth at an in-network hospital but only a small percentage of a birthing center, so the financial aspect drove my decision to deliver at a hospital (thankfully a different one than the first birth). At that time my midwife had admitting privileges at that small community hospital.
By my third pregnancy, the healthcare climate surrounding birth in Indiana had begun to shift. Midwives were becoming more common. Hospitals were putting their own midwives on staff. The small community hospital where I delivered my son had their own midwife by then and was no longer offering admitting privileges to my out-of-town midwife who would basically be in competition with theirs for business.
I’m sure the midwife the hospital hired was great too, but I was already comfortable with my birthing center. I chose to stay there and deliver in the free-standing birth center which was really just a small, ranch-style house with a really large bathtub in the middle of Muncie.
Would I Know Real Labor?
I was trying to get this birth story finished to publish on my daughter’s 15th birthday the other day, but I missed it by a bit because we’ve had track meets or baseball games every evening for weeks now.
My due date was late in April, and it was already fairly warm. I think I dilated a little pretty early with that pregnancy, so I had this false hope I would deliver a few weeks before the due date. Even though this was my third child, I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t even know when I was in labor because my first two births happened after going to a scheduled appointment and being told I was in labor and then delivering 3 hours and 5 hours later, respectively.
I had constant Braxton Hicks contractions every 5-10 minutes starting at about 24 weeks for every pregnancy. Since my son’s birth was pain-free up until the moment he was crowning, I had a legitimate chance of not being able to distinguish until I was pushing, but I kind of wanted to have a homebirth anyway, so it wasn’t something I was terribly worried about to be honest.
I figured if I gave birth at home or in the car, oh well.
Trying to Induce Labor by Push Mowing
It was within a week of my due date when I went to my regular appointment which I think was on Thursday, but there were no real signs of impending labor. The dilation had been the same for weeks. Nothing was really thinning. The membranes were still the same.
Since my mom always tells the story about push mowing the entire yard the day she gave birth to my brother, I assumed this would be an effective way to encourage labor. I was wrong.
[As an interesting side note, my brother presented breech, and back then instead of insisting on a c-section, they just called a really old doctor who shoved my brother back in and turned him around with his hands, and then my mom gave birth to him just fine.]
So I did all the push mowing on Friday while my husband did all the riding which caused some strange looks from people driving by our house. This is actually the only time in our married lives we’ve ever owned a working push mower. We don’t really do trim mowing.
We mostly just get as close as we can with the rider and consider it good enough, but for some reason, we briefly had a push mower. We probably thought we were going to keep our yard looking nice for a while, and then we gave up again because the grass just keeps growing every week.
Push mowing did not send me into labor as it did for my mom. Push mowing the entire front yard did make my hips really, really sore. The baby’s head was sort of grinding on all the bones in my pelvic region at that point. I really just made walking very painful for myself.
Nothing new through the evening and night on Friday. Nothing new all day on Saturday. By then I was thinking I would probably just be back at my appointment the next week.
I decided to try to go to sleep around midnight on Saturday/Sunday because I knew I would have to be up early for church. A little before 2 am, I was just starting to doze off when I heard this loud pop. Because I was a little sleep disoriented, at first I was trying to decide what I actually heard. Did I hear a gun shot? Did something fall in another room?
It was loud enough that my husband also stirred about the time I concluded it sounded most like a balloon popping. Then I started to roll over and a whoosh of water spilled onto the sheets, and I suddenly knew what the pop noise really was.
No Vacancy in the Birthing Rooms Again
I decided to give the midwife a call. Typically, it’s standard for women to be advised to labor at home until the contractions become too uncomfortable to speak through and walk through. This is good advise because many women are in labor for 20 hours, so if you are leaving your home to give birth, it’s still better to stay in the comfort of your own home through the early stages of labor.
Because my two previous labors were under five hours, and I never reached the point of painful contractions during the birth of my son, the midwife thought I should head to the birth center rather than wait around to see how my labor progressed at home.
The midwife also let me know there was already another mother at the birthing center. The birth center had two rooms. The super nice birthing tub was upstairs next to the main suite. There was a smaller suite downstairs with a small bathroom that had a regular bathtub for waterbirths.
So once again for the third consecutive birth, I was in labor with all the good rooms already occupied. I actually briefly considered staying at home at that point because I have a huge garden tub in my master bathroom, but I quickly realized giving birth at home would mean I would have to clean up the mess, so we headed to Muncie.
We called my mom before leaving because someone had to be at the birthing center to tend to our other kids. She needed to pack up a few things and left a while after we did. The basement of the birth center had a really cool playroom for siblings with a ball pit built into the wall, so the older kids had been looking forward to that aspect of the birth. I think they ended up sleeping through most of our time there, however.
Arrival at the Birth Center
By the time we arrived at the birth center, the woman who was occupying the good birthing room had decided to transfer to the hospital. This happens sometimes. It was not an emergency. Usually, when women transfer to the hospital from a birthing center or homebirth, it’s because they panic about how long it’s taking, or they decide the pain is no longer tolerable and want pain meds.
In this case, the mother had been laboring for several hours and didn’t think she was progressing quickly enough. Fear causes tension in your body, and tension causes pain, and tense muscles instead of relaxed muscles can slow labor.
When the midwife told me the other mother had transferred, she said she would likely deliver within minutes of getting to the hospital because that’s what always happens. The mother calms down a bit at the hospital, and labor is speedy after that. And that’s exactly what happened. The next call to the birthing center was someone letting them know the baby had arrived as soon as they got to the hospital.
They were cleaning and disinfecting everything when I arrived, and the midwife there had been at the birthing center for 36 hours straight at that point. The midwife who delivered my son was out-of-town for the weekend, so only one midwife was left covering the center, and EVERYONE apparently chose that weekend for delivering their babies.
Not Hooked to Tubes during Labor
I tested positive for Group B Strep during all my pregnancy, so the midwife ran an IV of antibiotics. Preventative antibiotics as the standard treatment for Group B Strep is now being questioned because the risk that Group B Strep poses to a full-term baby may be less than the risks associated with the use of the antibiotics.
Knowing what I know now, I likely would have refused the antibiotics during the birth and chosen to take a probiotic throughout the pregnancy instead. Antibiotics during birth created ongoing issues with thrush in my first child and sent me into years of severe acid reflux. At the time, I didn’t know any better.
Thankfully, I did not have to stay attached to the IV this time. The midwife left the needle taped to me in case my labor lasted longer than four hours (which would have meant another round of antibiotics). It was refreshing to be free of all tubes, etc. and able to move without any hindrance.
I did not get in the birthing tub right away. It’s not always a good idea to get in the tub from the first minute. I was totally comfortable walking around and such, so I didn’t necessarily want to be in the birthing tub for what could be hours.
Some believe getting in the water too early can slow labor a bit because you lessen the effects of gravity causing the head to act on the cervix, and you are mostly sitting still in the tub instead of walking around. Others believe the relaxing effect of the warm water makes up for any loss of gravity/movement.
It’s probably a wash (no pun intended). Since the positive outcomes with water birth are supported by all the research on water birth I could find, it possibly doesn’t make much difference when you get in the water. I wasn’t having any real pain or even major pressure, so I just waited a while to get in the tub.
My Time in the Birthing Tub
I’m honestly not sure when I got in the water birth tub. I think I waited until I was beyond 5 cm. Once I was settled into the tub and it was clear I was still very comfortable, the midwife asked if she could try to get some rest on the couch in the other room, since she had been in the process of delivering babies for the last 36 hours. I said that was fine.
I labored without any pain in the tub until the water started getting a little colder. I went through about ten minutes of actual pain with this birth while the water was cool. There was even a very brief point through one contraction where I thought I was going to have to transfer to get an epidural. This is a very normal thought that women usually have during transition labor, but I never had that thought during my son’s birth because I never had actual pain until the moment of crowning.
During that time I was having some pain, my husband realized I was starting to shiver. I normally take super hot showers or baths. I’m always freezing, and my shower would fry most people’s skin, but birthing tub water can’t be too hot. It has to be kept at a temperature that is safe for a baby. The birthing tub water has to be kept warm, but not hot. My birthing center had one of those floating rubber ducks that changes colors if the water gets too hot.
When my husband realized I was shivering he ran some more hot water into the tub. As soon as the water was warm again, I started to feel like pushing. I can’t remember if my husband went to get the midwife or if she just came in to check, but she was there.
At this point, it was getting into the morning hours, and I was actually getting sleepy. I also realized if I didn’t give birth fairly soon, my two older kids would end up missing church. I knew I needed to get busy, so my mom and the other kids could leave in time for church. I had pushed for over an hour with my first two births.
The length of the pushing part is rather deceiving to women who have never given birth, likely thanks to Hollywood’s portrayal of birth. On television, a lady who’s not even in labor yet gets stuck in an elevator for a few minutes and somehow gives birth before they can get her out of there. This made me mentally unprepared for the length of time I would be pushing for my first birth.
Even though I had pushed for over an hour with both my other two deliveries, my tiredness and desire to finish in time for my older kids to get to church made me have an insanely bad idea. I decided I was going to push this third baby out in two pushes (because if a lady on an elevator can do it, surely I could too).
The midwife I had for my youngest said she wished I had mentioned that to my midwife because the midwife definitely would have warned me that was a bad idea.
It was definitely a bad idea. I accomplished pushing the baby out in about two pushes, but that meant tearing. I did not need stitches with the birth of my 11-pound son because I let my body push on its own. I needed stitches with this birth because I rushed the pushing. I learned my lesson. DON’T HELP THE PUSHING!
The Calmness of Water Birth
Even though I pushed too hard and caused tearing, it did not feel like tearing. The water significantly reduced the burn from the “ring of fire” (name commonly used for that intense burning as the baby crowns).
I was able to grab the baby right out of the water and put her to the breast right away. She was so calm and nursed well right away. I can’t even describe how calm the whole experience of waterbirth is compared to land birth. The baby is just so peaceful instead of crying frantically at the shock of the cold air. Both my waterbirth babies were extremely alert and looking around instead of crying.
I delivered the afterbirth while still in the water. The midwife and her assistant just scoop out the afterbirth with a type of strainer. Delivering the afterbirth was so much easier. With my prior two births, I remember thinking “No, I thought I was finished, and now I have to deliver this stupid afterbirth.” I did not have that thought at all in the water. The baby was nursing well, and they kept the water warm enough. It was just peaceful and calm even while delivering the afterbirth.
My other kids came up the stairs shortly before the actual birth. I don’t know if they just heard more commotion upstairs and decided to check it out or what prompted their arrival. They were excited. I think it was around 6 am when the baby was finally born, and they had plenty of time to make it to church on time.
I was able to leave the birthing center 12 hours later (would have been 6 hours if I had not tested positive for Group B Strep). I felt unbelievably good. That evening I stood in my laundry room and folded several loads of laundry while the baby slept in the laundry basket beside me.
With my first doctor-assisted, hospital birth, it took months before I felt as great as I felt the evening of the day I delivered this third child in the water. I did a 5K (not running, walking with the stroller) less than 6 weeks after delivering my third.
After delivering one baby in the water, there was no way I was delivering the next baby anywhere but the water, but that’s a birth story for another day.
5 Major Advantages of Water Birth
The benefits of water birth are many, and I’m sure I haven’t covered every one. However, these are the top five advantages of water birth in my expert opinion developed over the course of two bed births and two water births.
I’m obviously not a medical provider, and you should not take anything I say as a medical opinion. My opinions are simply my own conclusions from comparing the births of my own four children. Your mileage may vary.
1.) Water Birth Lessens the Pain
I’m sure less pain is the most important perk of water birth for most women. Remember when you would go swimming as a child, and all the kids would think it was so cool that they could hold up their friends in the water even though they likely couldn’t lift that same friend out of the water? You could even lift your parents in the water, right?
Water birth has that same anti-gravity effect on your baby during labor. Without feeling that gravity from the baby weighing down on the cervix, you don’t feel the same amount of pressure.
I actually didn’t realize the full extent of this phenomenon until my last birth when I got out of the tub briefly to pee. I was doubled over with the two contractions I had during my trip to the bathroom, but I was back to no pain as soon as my belly was submerged in the birthing tub again.
2.) Water Birth Can Speed Up Labor
Tension makes birth take longer. Tense bodies don’t dilated nearly as easily as relaxed bodies. Think about how tense muscles work. Think about how relaxed muscles work. Which one do you want to push a baby through?
Warm water makes your body relax! In theory, this should speed up labor. It’s impossible to compare how long a mother’s labor would have been in or out of the water, but it’s well-known that relaxation is helpful to labor. This is why some women play soothing music or light candles while they labor.
3.) You Feel Less Exposed When Laboring in Water
For water birth (at least for my waterbirths), they don’t make you wear an open-backed hospital gown to give birth. I could wear whatever I wanted on top. Some women wear nothing at all. Some women wear a sports bra. I wore one of my husband’s extra large t-shirts.
Since the bottom half is in the water, I didn’t feel nearly as exposed as I did in the bed. That may be important to some women but not as important to others. If having a birth video is important to you, a water birth video would likely be more along the lines of something you would be fine with letting others view.
4.) Water Birth Feels Cleaner
I felt nasty after my first two births. You are usually sweaty, and you have nasty body fluids on you in various places after birth. At the hospital with my first, they didn’t let me shower until the next day which was pretty gross for me. I can’t really sleep at all if I haven’t showered before going to bed.
They let me shower as soon as I wanted at the next hospital, but I didn’t right away because people came to visit, and I didn’t want to just leave my baby. I didn’t feel quite as nasty for quite as long, but I didn’t feel very clean either.
With my waterbirths, I did not have that gross, I’ve-just-given-birth feeling. It just felt cleaner. I was able to get some sleep after without feeling disgusting.
5.) Water Birth is Less Stress for the Baby
There’s likely no research to confirm or deny this because nobody is constantly monitoring the baby’s heart rate right after most waterbirths, but I would be interested to know how the heart rates and levels of stress hormones compare between the two.
From my own observations, it was very clear that water birth was way less stressful for my babies. The warm water seemed to make the transition from warm womb to the outside world much smoother.
Studies on waterbirth tend to support the safety and efficiency of this alternative method of birth.
The Pregnancy Statistics website states:
Since the water birth was first introduced in 1991, the water birth statistics from around the world showcase a strong success rate for this alternative method of labor and delivery. A study showed that water birth statistics are generally favorable to this method of delivery, and it is becoming more and more popular throughout the developed world.
Some of the most interesting findings come from a 2009 study of 109 women in Iran where 53 women were randomly assigned to waterbirth and 53 were assigned to land birth. This study, according to Evidence Based Birth‘s page The Evidence on: Waterbirth, found the following:
Compared to the people randomly assigned to give birth on land, those assigned to give birth in the water had a higher rate of normal vaginal birth (100% vs. 79.2%), a shorter active phase of labor (cervix dilates more rapidly) (114 minutes vs. 186 minutes), a shorter third stage of labor (birthing the placenta) (6 minutes vs. 7.3 minutes), less use of artificial oxytocin (0% vs. 94.3%), less use of any pain medications (3.8% vs. 100%), a 23% lower rate of episiotomy (a surgical cut to the area of tissue between the vagina and rectum, called the perineum), and a 12% higher rate of perineal tears.
Can you believe 94% of the land birthers were given Oxytocin?
How to Find Waterbirth Near Me
Despite the favorable statistics on waterbirth, very few hospitals offer this option to laboring mothers.
You are much more likely to find a midwife willing to support this birthing choice. Many direct-entry homebirth midwives have an inflatable birthing tub (usually with disposable liners) that they will bring to your house. Some women just use a regular bathtub.
Some hospitals that have a midwife on staff also have birthing tubs. It never hurts to call around and ask. If you want to know the natural birth options in your area, you can always ask homeschoolers. Homeschoolers usually know this sort of information. If you can find a group of homeschoolers, there will likely be at least one who knows how to find a good waterbirth midwife.
Did you have a waterbirth? Do you wish you could have had a waterbirth? Are you appalled by the very idea of a water birth? Are you considering a waterbirth? Do you have any questions about the experience that I haven’t answered? Let me know in the comments.
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