When babies are born in water they do not breathe until they are brought to the surface. Nitrogen receptors in their cheeks respond to air, gravity, oxygen and nitrous oxide. While under the water, they are still receiving all their oxygen via the umbilical cord, just as they do in utero.
Water is naturally calming to all humans. Even if you cannot birth in water, research shows our nervous systems respond to just hearing the sound of water.
Research also shows women experience birth as less intense and more satisfying when giving birth in the water. Many women also choose to water birth to allow for an easier transition for the baby: The baby travels from water into water. Sound is also muffled, and the feeling of cool air happens after the baby begins to adjust outside of the womb. (You may not think of your birthing room as being cold, but the baby is coming from 99 degree water, so even a 70 degree womb is quite a shock.)
Barbara Harper is the founder of Waterbirth International, and travels the world educating doctors and nurses in the beauty of waterbirthing so that waterbirthing can be an option for women in more facilities globally. She was a guest on the podcast in episodes 100 and 122.
The benefits of water birthing are vast. According to Harper, waterbirthing provides women with many benefits, including:
- A higher chance of having a vaginal birth
- Higher rates of keeping an intact perineum
- Fewer requests for anesthesia during labor
- Less administration of Pitocin to speed up labor
- Shorter labors
- Lower rates of postpartum hemorrhage
The question isn’t whether waterbirth is safe; it’s whether your provider is knowledgeable and prepared to support waterbirthing if you request it.