Evidence for Having a Water Birth

A water birth refers to the delivery of a baby underwater to a laboring woman whose lower body is immersed in a bath or tub of warm water. This has been controversial among the medical establishment in the USA, while in many European countries it has become more accepted.

A review of the evidence shows that there is no reason to think that it induces harm to the mother or fetus, and it has many positive aspects.

Young woman holds her baby in a pool after natural water birth. Image Credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock
Young woman holds her baby in a pool after natural water birth. Image Credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Evidence for a Lower Mean Duration of Labor

Statistical evidence is in favor of water birth as relates to a shorter mean duration of labor with greater maternal relaxation. This is mostly due to a reduction in the duration of the second stage of labor.

It is noticeable that while more mothers reported intense pain during the second stage of labor, a significantly increased percentage reported satisfaction with their birth experience and relaxation during the labor, as well as a significant reduction in the perception of pain when looking back on it.

Evidence for Less Need for Pain Medication

The need for pain medication throughout labor and delivery has been found  lower compared to normal land births.

This has important benefits for the baby, who is able to have normal exposure to the natural levels of oxytocin, catecholamines, and endorphins that characterize the physiology of a laboring woman.

These are crucial in ensuring that the baby is calm, alert, and able to exercise the reflexes that prepare it for the all-important transition from life in the intrauterine environment to life outside.

Almost 3 out of 4 women reported a high level of satisfaction with the labor and birth experience.

Water Birth Benefits Pros And Cons Interwiev Doctor

Evidence for Less Perineal Damage

The mother finds it easy to balance her weight in the water, to stay upright during labor and delivery, and no forcible manual intervention is carried out until the baby is fully born.

The perineum is therefore much more likely to be intact, and the birth to be slower and more controlled.

Evidence shows that there is a higher incidence of 1st and 2nd degree tears, as would of course be expected from the lower incidence of routine episiotomies in water birth. At the same time, the number of severe perineal lacerations is extremely comparable, and less than that which would be expected when a stool is used for delivery.

Evidence for Lower Postpartum Blood Loss

Several studies showed that water birth was associated with a lower mean blood loss during and following delivery, as well as a higher mean maternal hemoglobin level in the postpartum period.

Evidence of Infant Safety Following Birth in Water

Many obstetricians fear that a baby born underwater will inhale water during its first breath. However, the physiological processes that underlie birth ensure that the baby does not take a breath while it is submerged.

There are several triggers for breathing, which include gravitational pressure on the face, and chemoreceptors that sense the presence of oxygen and carbon dioxide. These trigger the change from fetal to newborn circulation and stimulate breathing.

A mild physiological hypoxia is present which prevents premature breathing while under water. During this time an important event occurs, namely, the swallowing of the contents of the mouth. This accomplishes the clearing of the airway, and the introduction of regulated foreign matter into the fetal intestines in the form of vaginal and amniotic fluid, and other sources of benign bacteria. These enter the gut and begin to colonize it, building neonatal immunity and helping helpful species to establish their hold. Thus breathing almost always occurs only after this initial swallowing act, often followed by a spit or a sneeze.

Immediate suctioning of the mouth only disturbs this process rather than helping normal breathing to set in.

Water aspiration was reported in a very few cases but only prior to 1999, and was associated with a complete recovery in almost all the cases. Overall, Apgar scores are higher at 5 minutes compared to babies born on land.

Evidence of Bonding Benefits

Skin-to-skin contact is almost uninterrupted following water birth, as the baby is allowed to be in the water for a few moments until the whole body is delivered, following which the infant is gently placed on the mother’s chest until the cord is cut.

This helps the baby make the transition from the intrauterine to the extrauterine environment without stress.

The absence of vigorous newborn cry has not been found to indicate any deficit in normal newborn breathing under these circumstances, but rather a quiet and alert baby who is observing the surroundings with a confident and stable state of mind.

Evidence for Thermoregulation Following Water Birth

Infants born in the water tub regulate their temperature well because of the immediate and continued skin-to-skin contact with the mother, along with the improved capillary filling due to the delayed cord clamping. This means that radiant warming and warm clothing are not necessities in this setting.

Evidence for Normal Neonatal Outcomes

No study has ever found any relation between water birth and increased neonatal ICU admission or neonatal infections.

In fact, the dilution factor reduces the risk of exposure to pathogenic bacteria. Water from the tub does not enter the vagina either, as has been proved. The only proviso is that all equipment used during this delivery should be disposable or sterilisable. The normal stringent infection control policies should be used to prevent infections, as always.

A confounding factor is that women are not allowed to labor in the water tub after the slightest irregularity appears in the fetal heart rate, unlike with normal labor on land. This will necessarily skew the results.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Dr. Liji Thomas

Written by

Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Thomas, Liji. (2023, August 23). Evidence for Having a Water Birth. News-Medical. Retrieved on July 12, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Evidence-for-Having-a-Water-Birth.aspx.

  • MLA

    Thomas, Liji. "Evidence for Having a Water Birth". News-Medical. 12 July 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/Evidence-for-Having-a-Water-Birth.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Thomas, Liji. "Evidence for Having a Water Birth". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Evidence-for-Having-a-Water-Birth.aspx. (accessed July 12, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Thomas, Liji. 2023. Evidence for Having a Water Birth. News-Medical, viewed 12 July 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/Evidence-for-Having-a-Water-Birth.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Study highlights nutrition therapy's potential to manage gestational diabetes effectively