Q: I am due to give birth to my baby girl in a few weeks. I think I would like to try a water birth. However, I am a bit worried – could my baby drown? Is it really better than a 'normal' birth?
A: Giving birth is a unique experience and what works for one woman may not be so good for the next. However, many women say that a water birth is a wonderful experience - and one that you can have at hospital, home or a birthing centre.
Water birth advocates believe the biggest benefit is the water's ability to relax tense muscles and provide support and buoyancy. All of these benefits combine to help the woman through her labour, and minimise tensions in her body that can halt the progress of contractions and birth.
As long as you and your baby are making good progress, and labour has not been induced, labouring in water is safe. Giving birth in the water is also low risk. Your baby won't take his first breath until he feels air on his body.
This is because all babies are born with a 'dive reflex', meaning that your baby will instinctively shut off his airway as soon as he leaves your body and feels water. He will not breathe until he is out of the water.
Additionally, the midwife assisting you will ensure that the baby's head stays underwater until his entire body is able to surface, at which point the baby will take the first breath. Alternatively, you can choose to leave the water once you are ready to push the baby out, and give birth outside of the pool.
In terms of pain relief, you will still be able to use gas and air while in the pool. However, you won't be able to have an epidural, other drugs such as pethidine, or use a TENS machine without leaving the pool for the remainder of your labour. You may also have to get out if you or your baby begin to experience problems.
If you remain unsure, your midwife will be able to give you more information and, if you plan to give birth in hospital, you may be allowed a tour of the water birth facilities, which should help put your mind at rest.