Water birth guide

Considering a water birth and wanting to know what is a water birth and what the benefits of water birth are? Here’s what you need to know.

Given your baby has been living in a sac of fluid for nine months, a water birth may appeal as a gentle way of welcoming your newborn into the world. 

What is a water birth?

Water births, or the process of giving birth in a tub of warm water (birthing pool), is offered at some hospitals and birth centres in Australia. However, water births aren’t suitable for everyone. Generally, you must be healthy with a low-risk pregnancy that’s reached 37 weeks, not too heavy (less than 90 kgs), and your baby must be lying head down. There are also risks you’ll need to weigh up before you opt for this style of delivery.

Water birth pros and cons

Benefits of water birth

Having a water birth is said to help women relax and may reduce stress-related hormones. Also, some women who opt to deliver their baby in a birthing pool say they feel more in control of the process. Other benefits of water birth include potentially reducing the need for drugs to help manage pain or speed up labour, and possibly reduced tearing.

Risks of water birth

Research into the safety of water births is lacking, but there are some risks to be aware of. These include the slight chance of the baby swallowing water and if you or your baby becoming too hot. There’s also a risk of infection to your baby from waterborne viruses and bacteria, as well as from gut bacteria caused by opening your bowels during labour, a natural occurrence. For these reasons, some obstetricians have concerns about water births.

“From my own personal experience, I don’t have a concern with women using a bath in labour. But when it comes to actually giving birth in water, we probably don’t have enough data to say that it’s a good idea and a safe thing to do,” says obstetrician Dr Bernadette White from Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital for Women. “The benefits aren’t really all that substantial, plus it makes intervention difficult if something goes wrong.”
Pregnant woman in a birthing pool
If you still want to have a water birth, make sure you do so only under the guidance of a professional, such as a specially trained doctor or midwife. They’ll need to have good access to your baby and must be able to get you out quickly if any issues arise.

You’ll also need to plan well in advance. While most hospitals have facilities for water immersion, not all are equipped with a birthing pool for water births. A water birth at home, if deemed medically appropriate for you, requires a special birthing pool that can fit both you and your partner (if you wish). You’ll also need a hot water system that can supply several hundred litres of warm water over a long period. Your midwife will be able to help advise on a suitable birthing pool set-up. 

What if I'm still in pain?

If you decide to go for a water birth, gas and air, as well as mild pain relievers, may be administered to help with pain if your birth is taking place at a hospital or birth centre. And of course, if you’re really struggling with the pain and require an epidural, you’ll need to get out of the birthing pool and into the hands of an anaesthetist. 

Speak to your medical team and consider what’s going to be safest and best for both you and your little one. 

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