Is Underwater Childbirth Safe? Some Doctors Say No.

Most women look forward to having a baby but no one wants to feel pain. In recent years, having a baby in a pool of water has become a popular trend because it allegedly reduces the need for pain meds and anesthesia however not so fast, says both obstetricians and pediatricians. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have issued a formal opinion (Committee Opinion #594 April 2014) that does not support “immersion” (aka underwater) births because of its associated complications while a mother is pushing to deliver her baby. The “pushing” part of childbirth is also known as “second stage labor.”
Why is this important? Because there are presently 143 birthing centers in the U.S. that offer underwater births to pregnant women. In fact, 1% of all births in the United Kingdom are immersion. While some research claims that these births are safe, experts think otherwise and state that the number of women studied was too small to detect rare but potentially harmful outcomes.

While some women may experience a feeling of well being and control, decreased stress and less vaginal tears during an immersion birth, according to the Committee Opinion, there is no scientific evidence that an underwater or immersion birth helps the baby. In fact, there is evidence of increased complications such as

  • increased infections to both the mother and newborn, especially after the membranes are ruptured (aka “water broke”)
  • difficulty in regulated the newborn’s temperature
  • increased risk of the umbilical cord tearing from the placenta
  • infant drowning and near drowning
  • infant seizures and suffocation
  • severe infant breathing problems

Should women give up immersion births completely? Probably not. The experts think that a woman may stay in these tubs during labor but should NOT push or deliver the baby underwater. They also recommend stricter protocols, patient selection and infection control.


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