When you discovered you were pregnant and you started thinking about the birth of your baby did you think about water as an option for pain management? You would not be alone if your answer was no!
The benefits are huge.
Placing a pool of water in a birth room changes the atmosphere immediately. Voices get softer, the mother stays calmer and everyone becomes less stressed.
The effect of buoyancy, that immersion in water creates, allows easy movement of the mother. No one has to help the mother get into a new position. She moves as her body feels the need. Movement helps open the pelvis, allowing the baby to descend.
When a woman in labour relaxes in a warm deep bath she is free from gravity’s pull on her body and her body feels amazingly weightless. The sensitivity and irritation women can experience in their bodies when they are in labour is also reduced when in water as the sensory stimulation is dulled resulting in her body being less agitated by external ‘things.’
When a woman is relaxed in labour she is less likely to produce stress-related hormones and makes room for her body to produce the endorphins that are the bodies natural pain relief. A labouring woman who is able to relax physically, is able to relax mentally as well. Immersion in water also gives a sense of privacy and a personal space to feel safe in. A sense of safety is also very important for progress in the birth process.
Many women, midwives, and doctors acknowledge the analgesic effect of water. The effect is very clear when you see a labouring woman immerse herself in water or stand under the shower. Many women who have laboured in water say they would never be able to consider labouring without water again.
Research has verified many positive aspects of labouring and giving birth in water.
- Water facilitates mobility and enables the mother to assume any position which is comfortable for labour and birth.
- Can speed up labour
- Reduces blood pressure
- Gives mother more of a feeling of autonomy
- Provides significant pain relief
- Promotes relaxation
- Conserves mothers energy
- Reduces the need for drugs and interventions
- Gives mother a private protected space
- Softens the perineum and can reduce tearing
- A gentle beginning for baby
Although water birth is becoming more widely accepted, for a long time many medical professionals thought it was dangerous to give birth in water. There were many unfounded myths surrounding giving birth in water. As a result of this it was not an option that was widely available. Still today, in The Netherlands, many midwives are afraid of supporting a water birth. Fears of not being able to measure blood loss or having to be more hands off during the birth of the baby are a few of the reasons given for not supporting water birth.
For an evidence based article on water birth and the research that has been done on it follow the link here: evidencebasedbirth.com
Maybe you really do not see yourself birthing your baby in the water …but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water!! You don’t necessarily have to give birth to your baby in the water, although that can be amazing, what about just using it for pain relief?
Over the last year or two the options for using water for labour and birth have grown, definitely in my working area, The Hague, Delft and Rotterdam. Midwives are being trained to support water birth and hospitals are seeing there is a demand for it. Even though it is becoming more popular, the options are still very limited. (My next blog will provide a list of hospitals in these cities above and the options they have for water birth)
The shower is often not considered and is also underestimated as a good form of pain relief. Women who use the shower though during labour can stay in there for hours sometimes. It really can help manage the pain. Almost all hospitals have showers in the en-suite bathrooms. A fantastic option for pain management.
Is water really an effective form of pain relief?
I cannot tell you how many labouring women I have heard groaning with relief at the effect the warm water has on the pain when they first enter the water. That feeling of heaviness in her pregnant body is lightened and there is an ease to which she can move and find comfortable positions in the water. The warmth helps the body relax and the contractions are often experienced as less painful.
Rianne, a recent client of mine, said about her experience:
“I still remember the moment I got into the water. The warmth of the water made such a huge difference, I felt more relaxed, calm and focused. I was better able to get into my own “bubble.” Outside the water I needed help to cope with the contractions and as soon as I got inside the water I needed less help and didn’t feel ‘unsettled’ anymore. The water helped a lot to ease the pain. My score for the pain outside the water was 8/10 and inside the water it quickly became a 4/10.”
Rianne ended up not giving birth to her daughter in the water but had no regrets about having taken the trouble to rent a pool, take it to the birth centre and (have her partner) set it up. It was worth it all for the amazing relief it provided her.
So why not consider using water for pain management. Talk to your midwife about the options. One thing is for sure no woman who used this option ever said it was a waste of time and effort!
*Remember that if you have a medical indication, and are giving birth under the Gynecologist, your hospital of choice may have a pool but it is (in most cases) only available for women giving birth with an external (1st line) midwife practice. More about this in the next blog.