“Are you having a water birth?”
“I’d like one, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed. My baby is measuring too big… Too small… I have strep B… I had a c-section last time… My blood pressure’s high… I’m overdue… There’s only one pool in hospital… I’ve got gestational diabetes… My partner’s aquaphobic!…”
Being an Aqua Yoga teacher, I’m privileged to have been privy to the light-hearted birth chats between many pregnant women over the years. Many have clearly gained a great deal from the qualities of water week after week, and have groaned with dread at the thought of getting out of the swimming pool at the end of each class. Yet what still amazes me is the prevalent fear and doubt around birth choices – about what is allowed, including water birth.
If you have immersed yourself in water while heavily pregnant, you’ll understand how wonderful it feels. Some pregnant women take a lot of baths – it’s one of my leading reasons for recommending heated birth pools: they’re not just to birth in. They can provide so much for women reaching the end of pregnancy, especially those who are suffering with back, pelvic or hip pain, or general aches and discomfort. There is much to be enjoyed from having a giant bath in your living room, inviting you to soak aching muscles and relax in the warm weightlessness, giving you the ability to move around freely and spend precious moments bonding with your bump.
Choosing a water birth doesn’t mean you have to necessarily deliver your baby in the water. As with pregnancy, there is much that water can provide during labour. The buoyancy and support of water makes you feel lighter and enables you to move much more freely than on land. It also improves blood circulation and oxygen levels and promotes more efficient contractions. The warmth of the water soothes and relaxes your muscles, allowing your body to produce endorphins and decrease pain. A birth pool creates a private ‘nest’ that can help you to feel safe, another important factor that encourages the body to birth normally, and evidence suggests that water birth minimises damage to the perineum, meaning a reduced chance of vaginal tearing, stitches and episiotomy.
I feel that having the actual delivery in water is less important for the mother, but perhaps not for the baby. It must be wonderful to have such an easy and beautiful transition into the outside world. Some babies barely notice the passing from one water world to another, with no strangers’ hands or medical instruments to greet them. Brought up to the surface gently by their mother and embraced instantly: beautiful.
I didn’t choose water the first time round. However, I feel very lucky to be able to compare giving birth on land and in water. My first daughter was born in my bedroom after a steady 12-hour labour, and my second, two years later, in a lovely heated pool in our living room after about 3½ hours. They were both beautiful births, and while I realise you can never have the first birth twice, it’s still very interesting to see how different my labours were. With my eldest, I spent the majority of my time on all fours on my bed, refusing to move into any other position. After huge amounts of encouragement from my midwife and help from my husband, I did move every 4 hours or so, but the biggest thing I remember about it was the build-up to each event – the dread, the negative feelings towards everyone ‘making’ me do it. I just didn’t want to move. It wasn’t easy, and it made my contractions really painful.
My second birth was completely different, as I could move freely in the water, supported and weightless. Gentle sways or moving from a squat to my knees intensified the contractions instantly. I felt so in control – it was incredible. I received my second daughter, tangled up in her cord, with my husband in the water behind me. It was magical. I felt every movement our baby made on her journey Earthside. I knew exactly where she was at any moment and experienced every turn with her. We were in tune with one another from the first contraction, and I believe that undoubtedly the water deepened our connection.
Where can I have a water birth?
If you decide that giving birth in water or utilising it for pain relief is something you would like to do, have a chat with your partner, doula and midwife about it. Choosing where to have your baby may be a bigger decision, but wherever you are, a water birth should be possible. Many hospitals only have one pool, so you may need to prepare yourself for disappointment if it’s already in use. However, ask your midwife prior to labour if bringing a portable pool with you is possible, as some hospitals can accommodate this. Midwife-led units or birthing centres often have more pools available, so there may be a higher chance of you getting one, although women who choose to birth in these units will be considered ‘low risk’, with a large percentage wanting to use a pool at some point during their labour.
The only place you can guarantee that a pool is reserved just for you is at home. If you simply intend to labour there, a midwife can come and check on you and assess your progress, and if you then choose to transfer for delivery you can do so. Remember that your midwife, doctor, friends and relatives are all involved in providing you with the best information they can, but the choice of where to have your baby and whether you choose water or land is 100% yours. Gather all the information and assess what works for you… This is your birth and you are allowed to make choices without fear or doubt.
Carrie Norris is a doula and Aqua Yoga teacher living in Bristol with her two young daughters, Zoe and Athena. In 2012 she took over the birth pool hire company Born in Water, which has since evolved into Born at Home, specialising in all things related to home birth. www.bornathome.co.uk
Photography by Himalee Rupesinghe –
First published in Issue 39 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.