That stereotypical scene you picture when thinking of childbirth – a bright white hospital room coupled with a bed, stirrups, and an abundance of audible pain – might soon change. Another option is gaining traction overseas, and it’s one that UNLV School of Nursing maternal health researcher Jennifer Vanderlaan says healthcare settings in the United States should consider.
Water birth, which involves immersion in water during portions of labor and delivery, can reduce both pain and anxiety for expectant mothers. Better yet, it is safe and effective, also cutting down on the need for medication and potentially painful medical procedures.
Depending on who you are, that might sound like a nice alternative. The problem? Access to water births is limited in the U.S.
In the U.S., more than 98% of births happen in hospitals. But water immersion is mostly used by midwives outside a hospital, since most facilities do not provide adequate resources for water immersion.
Water Births: By the Numbers
In a new study, Vanderlaan and an international team of colleagues analyzed the labor and delivery risks and outcomes of more than 150,000 women who gave birth with and without immersion in water.
The data, which was pulled from three dozen existing studies published since 2000, shows water births provide positive outcomes for both the mother and child, including a decrease in painkillers, less hemorrhaging, and fewer epidurals and episiotomies (a surgical cut in the vagina to aid difficult deliveries). The practice also led to significantly higher reports of overall personal satisfaction among mothers.
“Hospitals have hesitated to adopt water birth because the evidence about its benefits was inconsistent,” said Vanderlaan. “This study shows that when water immersion is used in hospitals, there are clear benefits for laboring women.”
Since a majority of studies cited for the analysis occurred outside the U.S. – and because of differences in training and staffing within U.S. versus international delivery units – moving forward, Vanderlaan and her coauthors plan to identify specific strategies that medical facilities could consider implementing to increase rates of water birth in the U.S.
“The practice has been proven to reduce pain during childbirth, but the additional benefits of water birth reinforce that it’s a safe, effective alternative to traditional childbirth and it should be more widely available in U.S. hospitals,” Vanderlaan said.