Home and Water Birth BASICS: Benefits, Risks and FAQs

Water Birth

These are questions I had when I was deciding to have my own water birth.  Here are the answers I have gathered along with my personal experiences to inspire and help you.

  1. WHO CAN DO WATERBIRTH?

Generally, water birth and home birth are for those with low-risk, full term pregnancies.  But don’t despair if you have a breech baby or placenta previa, or other cases.  I know of some who had success despite these. You just have to consult with your OB-Gyne and midwife.

a. My pain tolerance is low, can I do water birth?

Not only did I have low pain tolerance, I am also uncomfortable with blood and medical stuff.  Yes, water birth is possible.  You can read more about how to deal with pain here.

b. I don’t live an active lifestyle, can I do water birth?

Yes.  BUT, having more exercise would definitely help!

I had one intern at work who once asked me why I am so sedentary. I have never had a consistent exercise routine or sport in my life.  Of course, when I was pregnant, I was doing a little more stretches and walking.  Needless to say, I was able to have a successful birth.

c. I am not very young anymore, can I do water birth?

You may, as long as your pregnancy is low risk.

I gave birth to my first child when I was 31. My friend had successfully given birth at home in water despite 2 previous C-Sections at 41.

d. My pregnancy is big and I was told to have a small pelvis, can I do water birth?

My midwives claim that size is not an issue. Our baby’s head, as well as our pelvis will adjust during birth.

Failure to progress is more often just not waiting enough.  It also usually happen in hospitals because mothers lie on their back, which makes the pelvis narrower, and the baby harder to descend. Here’s an additional resource.

Research show that the accuracy of determining the size of our babies prior to birth is very low, even via an ultrasound, and there is no benefit for induction to the mother or the baby. (additional source here)

Personally though, I watched my weight and my food intake.

e. I’ve had C-section before, can I do water birth?

I know of people who have had one and two C-sections prior to water birth.  But again, it is not for everyone.  You have to consult a pro-VBAC OB-Gyne about it. Your doctor might consider your condition, the birth timing, and the way you were previously operated as factors for your VBAC eligibility.

  1. WHY DID YOU EXPLORE WATERBIRTH?

When I was in my teens, I watched a very brief feature of someone who had a water birth. What stuck to me was how she pleasantly described the experience, and that her husband was with her the whole time.

I didn’t think so much about it until we were ready to get pregnant ourselves.  Fortunately, we knew of some friends who have had a natural birthing experience (non-medicated vaginal birth) through a midwife and a friend who also had a water birth at home.  My pregnancy was relatively low-risk, so we started to ask questions and did our research.

  1. WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY LIKE LEARNING ABOUT WATER BIRTH?

First pregnancy in itself is daunting enough.  There were so many changes in my body, and I felt like I had so many things to learn.

Below are 5 things I did to learn about water birth

This is in order of how helpful it was for me (“a” being the most helpful).  Please note that learning styles differ, so this might vary case to case.

  • Attend a Birth Class with your husband

    We invested in a 1 full-day weekend birth class taught by a husband and wife tandem that are advocates of natural birthing. The class was very helpful in determining our decision.  We learned about different birthing experiences and general facts and information.  We ended up feeling more empowered after the class.

When is a good time to attend a birth class?

I suggest you attend a class on your second trimester. That would not be too early, but also not too late to apply the exercises and concepts that you will learn.  It will also give you time to really decide on your birth.

  • Facebook Group

    This was very helpful for me. I was able to find a group in Facebook that is focused on Gentle birthing.   As a member, you can view other people’s questions and the answers from Doula’s, midwives, fellow moms who’ve had experiences, and even OB’s who are advocates of Gentle birth.  These groups also link to evidence-based resources.

    It is great if you can find a group in your area because you may also get referrals to good midwives and doctors who will be supportive of your decision.

  • Websites

    For general pregnancy information, I also subscribed to www.babycenter.com, which basically emails you weekly updates on your pregnancy, tips, and trivia about your baby.  It was actually cool learning about how big your baby is this week, how he/she is developing, etc.  Another very helpful site is www.evidencebasedbirth.com if you want more scientific and technical information about birthing.

  • Meet real people who experienced home water birth

    I had coffee with a mom who had a hospital birth for her first child and a home water birth for her second.  She was introduced to me by a common friend (or the FB groups can link you). She lives in the same city as me, and I was able to ask her my questions.

    When you meet real people, you get to discuss not just about facts but really tackle realities, concerns, fears more with more personal answers.

  • Read books about birthing

    The only reason why books would be last in my list because I read very slow.  But here are good resources:

  • Birthing from Within- ideal for first time moms-to-be, especially if you have anxieties and fears
  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
  • Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
  • Silent Knife—for VBAC moms
  1.  WHEN DID YOU DECIDE ON WATER BIRTH/ HOME BIRTH?

We have decided on the water birth when I was on my 7th month of the pregnancy.  We figured, we really wanted to try a non-medicated birth and the water birth method will help me deal with the pain better.  And as I learn more about it and the benefits, the more I was convinced.

Our decision to do home birth took a while because I had a lot of questions on emergencies, which will also be tackled in this article. We also had to figure out logistics since our midwives live quite far from our house.

  1. HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON HOME BIRTH?

One of our key learning during our birth class is how our bodies work during birth. Our Oxytocin hormones help ease the birthing process, so it helps that you are laboring in a relaxed environment.  We also didn’t want unnecessary medical intervention, and have privacy during our birth.

I have also seen The Business of Being Born, which helped our decision.

  1. ARE WATER BIRTH AND HOME BIRTH SAFE?

In other countries like the Netherlands, home births and non-medicated births are quite common.

Evidences points to the safety of water birth and can in fact lessen the risk of a C-section.  Generally, there is no unique safety risks to water birth vs. a land birth.  However, some people think twice about home birthing because there is of course no comfort of the hospital facilities for emergency.  Hence, it is important to:

  • Be well-aware of both the risks of hospital birth and home birth
  • Be of good health, no complications
  • Give birth in full term- not prematurely
  • Work with a well-trained, experienced birthing team—this is a related reading
  • Make sure that there is a nearby hospital, and work with a PLAN B, should there be an emergency. See further below on what usually merits an emergency.

Remember, every birth and pregnancy will be different.  You may also opt to have a natural land birth or water birth in a facility instead of your home.  Your birth might not be low-risk and you might need to go through a C-Section.  The important thing is you are well-informed and you are comfortable with your choice and believes that it is best for you and your baby.

  1. WILL MY BABY DROWN IN WATER BIRTH?

Studies show that baby won’t drown because the baby’s facial receptors has not been in contact yet with the Oxygen and CO2 in the air, so he doesn’t immediately breath through his nose , and the body detects water and closes airways. (additional Source here)

  1. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WATERBIRTH? HOMEBIRTH?

One of the main reasons why we opted for these is because we wanted our son’s birth to not be stressful.  Mainly for him to transition to the “outside world” as gentle as possible.

Of course, the benefit extended to us because this type of birth is also generally less stressful.

I can eat.  I was able to skip protocols.

There were no Internal Exams (IE) done to me prior to when my water bag broke on the 15th hour (my total labor was 17 hours).  No Episiotomy.  No pressure on how many “cm” I was.  We were really able to wait until my son was ready to come out.

I was more in control and I can really listen to my body and its natural cues.

Moving around freely without anything strapped on me was great. I had fetal heart rate monitoring from time to time, but that just about it.

During the peak of my labor, I was making unconscious movements like standing on fours, swaying my hips, and moving around water.  My midwife told me that those were my body’s cues properly positioning the baby through the birth canal.

Because I can move around, this actually helped progress the labor. My body was working with gravity instead of lying down which is more painful because the position narrows the pelvis and puts a strain on the back.

Studies also say that the microbiome at home is helpful.

It is something my body is familiar with, and free of pathogens from hospital.  The microbiome helps to strengthen the baby’s gut and immunity.

Of course, these would be the same even if I did not choose water birth and instead opted for a non-medicated land birth.  But again, the warm water helps with pain management.  It also helps reduce perennial tear.

 

And because the water helps with pain management, there was less chance of pain interventions, less chance of distress, thus, less chance of emergency C-section.

Once my son came out, I was able to bond well with him.

He was not suctioned (there was no need to), he was not weighed (immediately), his vernix was intact and not cleaned (the vernix helps regulate his temperature as he is very new in this world).  We were also able to delay cord clamping to about 3 hours, and my husband had the privilege to cut his cord.

My recovery was also very fast.

I was able to walk a few minutes after my son was born, and move to our bedroom.  I was able to breastfeed sitting down and even breastfeeding in lotus position.

Personally, I felt calmer, happier, and more at ease, as it was my home after all.  No strangers were there, no bright lights, no pressure on protocols. 

  1. WHAT DID PEOPLE SAY ABOUT WATER BIRTH?

a.  What did your OB- Gyne Say about water birth?

I have been going to my OB- Gyne prior to our decision on how we want to give birth. We did not event get to the point of discussing water birth and home birth.  I asked her if I can do natural birth with no epidural and interventions and she was not very warm about the idea. So, I concluded that she will probably kick me out if I even told her about water birth and home birth.

I understand that some, if not most will not be comfortable with your decision, and that is okay. You have to understand that most doctors are not trained to assist in a water birth. Most would also be more comfortable doing C-sections or following protocols with medical interventions as they are trained for those.

You can look for practitioners who will be supportive of your choices.  I still kept in touch with her until the final weeks, just in case we need to do hospital birth last minute. BUT I refused to go through ultrasounds and IE (internal exams) especially during my last term to avoid premature rupture, which might put pressure on me during labor.

Ideally though, you find an OB-Gyne who will be more supportive and comfortable to be a PLAN B if ever.

b.  What did your husband, family and friends say about water birth?

I was very fortunate that my husband was supportive and was learning with me through the process. So the decision on our birth was mutual. Try learning with your husband or attending a birth class, so he will be on board.

My friends and family were negative.  Some people will advise that they do not need to know and you can avoid unnecessary stress by not really telling them details.  Personally, I told my family that we were looking into it, but I also assured them that I am still going to an OB-Gyne (as part of my back-up plan) while I was also seeing my midwife.

It is also important to understand where they are coming from, especially if it is your husband, so you know if it is something that you really have to consider.

In my case, my mom came from a generation when C-Sections were very popular, it was the “easy” delivery.  But because my parents cannot afford it, they think of C-Section as ideal but all her three births were vaginal births. During her last birth, there was a typhoon, my dad was not in the labor room, and the anesthesiologist did not arrive on time.  She had that memory of extreme labor pain, to the point of even biting the nurse.  That was what she was afraid of for me.  However, I was assured that my body was created to give birth and to withstand that pain, so I was settled.

10. IS WATER BIRTH LESS PAINFUL?

There are women who claim that their labor and birth were not painful.  There are also resources about orgasmic birth or hypno birthing.

But personally, because there was no Anesthesia,  I went through the pain but a different mindset helped me through it.  You can read more how I dealt with pain here.

My labor
1 A.M

It started at 1AM, and as I’ve learned, I tried to relax and still sleep.  My husband already informed our birthing team, who arrived around 9 AM.

11 A.M

By 11AM, I felt that the contractions were becoming stronger.  Since that was my first experience, I did not know how to recognize the intensity of the pain, except that I know that I was in active labor because of the intervals and length of contractions.  I requested to go into the water tub to ease my pain.  In my mind, this is it! My baby is coming anytime now.  I could not imagine more pain than this pain.  They were trying to give me food and let me drink, but it was already quite challenging.

2 P.M

At 2PM, I was still in the tub, moving around and expecting that this is it! There could be no more pain greater than this.   But my midwives were still having coffee at this time, and in my mind, “Hey guys, baby’s coming out!!!”.  But I guess, they really know what they were doing.

4 P.M

The intensity further increased from 4PM on wards.  My arm was cramping already, so they put some Epsom salt in the water.  I am forgetting to breathe properly (you know when you are in pain, you forget to inhale). I was given some oxygen. Yes, my midwives had an oxygen tank—I cannot stress enough the importance of a great birthing team.

6 P.M

Finally when my son was crowning, I didn’t know how to bring him out.  But my midwives were encouraging me non-stop.  They kept on saying “you can” non-stop like a chant.  By this time, my husband said, I looked different.  I can still smile in pain, but it was a different face, something he has never seen before.

Admittedly, I almost gave up because of the pain.  But I thought to myself during active labor, “how hassle it is to move to the hospital, and I’m wet, I’ll just do this”.  I even asked my midwife during crowning if she can just pull the baby because I was quite tired.  She said, “I can, but it is better if he comes out on his own”.  Then she gave me a serious pep talk… “do not be afraid to push, or else, it will take you longer”.  So I made the best push and he came out!

I went in and out of the tub to pee and even poop earlier during the labor.  The warmth of the water helps soooo much with the pain.  But of course, it does not completely eliminates the pain.

11. WHAT MERITS EMERGENCY C-SECTION DURING WATER BIRTH?

This is something I asked my midwife early on.  I have friends who had scheduled C-sections for their first babies because of different reasons given by their OB-Gyne.  So I want to know, are these valid? How likely will I have an emergency C-section and be moved to the hospital?

Cord coil

Does not necessarily merit an emergency CS.  The babies do not breathe through their noses inside the womb, so this normally do not cause fetal distress unlike what we would sometimes hear.  My son actually had double cord coil when I birthed.

Meconium

Meconium in itself is not the danger, but a combination of different factors. My My midwife advised me that the later stage I am in the pregnancy, the more I have to hydrate to of course keep the amniotic fluid high.  Here’s a good resource on this matter.

Premature Rupture of Membrane (PROM and PPROM)

Some studies say you have to give birth in less than 24 hours after the rupture. There is a risk of infection if the baby is not delivered immediately.  Hence, it is important to prepare well during pregnancy to avoid this.

So I asked, what would usually merit an emergency C-Section?

My midwife’s answer was fetal distress.  It is when the baby’s heartbeat becomes weak or too fast, and it does not stabilize.

So what is the usual cause of fetal distress?

These would normally be the drugs (medical intervention) and of course the mother in distress.

12.  WILL YOU DO IT AGAIN?  

If the Lord permits another healthy pregnancy, absolutely!

 

I hope this helped you have a more informed choice on your birth.  God Bless you!

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