Wellness & Fitness

Water births for fewer medical procedures and complications


During pregnancy, women usually strive to embrace a healthy lifestyle and undergo required antenatal care check-ups for their own well-being and growth of the unborn.

Aside from the recommended practices, health experts note that care given during hours leading to delivery as well as when the actual birth takes place is also extremely important.

For healthy women with otherwise normal pregnancies, vaginal births done at hospitals - in delivery beds - are usually a preference for many mothers. However, some women opt for water births which have been gaining popularity over the years.


The water birth allows a mother to experience labour and delivery in a tub of warm water. She may also choose to undergo the labour pains while in water and then have the actual birth in ‘dry land’ - at a hospital bed instead of inside the water.

Whichever the case, health practitioners – such as doctors, nurses, or midwives – are usually required to help women go through the water birth procedure.

Findings of a new study published in the British Medical Journal Open vouches for this method and indicate that it offers benefits to mothers and their newborns, compared to normal deliveries where water is not used.

Specifically, the results of the study show that water births are associated with fewer interventions or medical procedures, as well as complications. It also offers mothers higher levels of satisfaction and delivery experience.

According to the research, water births significantly reduce the use of epidurals or injected opioids (drugs) that are usually administered to lessen pain during labour and delivery. They also reduce the risk of haemorrhage or heavy bleeding after birth, which can endanger the lives of affected mothers and lead to death.

In addition, water births were found to alleviate tears in a woman’s perineum (area between the vagina and anus). Those that go through it usually require a procedure known as episiotomy, where doctors are forced to cut the perineum to prevent a severe tear or speed up the delivery if the baby needs to be born quickly.

Water births are also believed to keep the baby calm, hence ensuring its safe delivery with minimal complications or difficulties that could affect its health.

“Water immersion can significantly increase the likelihood of an intact perineum and reduces the chances of women going through the episiotomy procedure which can increase postnatal pain, and anxiety, and impact negatively on a woman’s birth experience,” notes the researchers.

The results emanated from the analysis of numerous studies on childbirth experiences involving 157,546 women.

Low-tech intervention

Overall, the findings of the study showed that a water birth was as safe as standard care for healthy mums and their newborns. But the former was found to offer additional benefits to the mothers.

“Water immersion provides benefits for the mother and newborn when used in the obstetric setting, making water immersion a low-tech intervention for improving quality and satisfaction with care. It is an effective method to reduce pain in labour, without increasing risk,” concluded the researchers.

Despite the benefits associated with water births, health experts note that necessary precautions need to be taken to avert certain risks linked to this method of delivery.

As a basic requirement, the water birth needs to happen under the watch of an experienced and licensed healthcare professional to help with the labour and delivery. High hygiene standards and cleanliness of the tub filled with water, need to be maintained to avert infections.

The water temperature in the tub should also be well regulated (kept at human body temperature) while mothers need to be encouraged to drink water during birth to avoid dehydration.

Most importantly, plans should be made to facilitate the quick removal of the mother from the water and transfer to a hospital, should unforeseen medical problems arise.

Due to the high-risk nature of their pregnancies, the following people are cautioned against having water births: women younger than 17 or older than 35; mothers with complications like preeclampsia or diabetes; women having twins or multiple babies; mothers with babies who are premature, big or in breech position.

Dr Sikolia Wanyonyi, a gynaecologist and foetal health specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital notes that water births should only be considered among healthy women with low-risk pregnancies.

"They should not be having underlying conditions like hypertension or diabetes, as well as those who have had previous c-sections or surgical delivery. Mothers whose water has broken prematurely should not undergo water births," he says.

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