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Water immersion: Does it make a difference during labor delivery?

By Summa Published: February 14, 2017

The therapeutic use of water, also known as hydrotherapy, is a concept that dates back to ancient times. Historically, water is often associated with relaxation, calmness, and peacefulness. The use of hydrotherapy has been documented in both Japanese and British culture as a source of pain relief during labor.

Over the past several decades, water immersion has become a popular concept in the United States. However, its prevalence and practice has not been well established. There are also many questions about the benefits of immersion during labor and delivery and the questionable maternal and neonatal risks that it imposes.

A recent scientific study found several benefits of water immersion, for both mom and baby, especially when breaking down the different stages of labor.

  • First stage - which consists of initiation of labor to complete cervical dilation (10cm):

-Decreased use of epidurals and other pain medications

-Reduced labor duration

-No incremental impacts to baby during the labor process in regards to NICU admissions, infection rate, and labor management.

  • Second stage - complete dilation (10 cm to delivery of baby):

-Improvement in overall labor satisfaction

-No change in the rate of postpartum bleeding, obstetrical lacerations, or the use of episiotomy  

-Overall, detrimental neonatal outcomes remain unchanged

While one can clearly see the proven benefit of hydrotherapy during labor and delivery, it is not without risks. There are documented reports of water births leading to fetal death due to infection, poor sanitation, or water entering the infant’s airway.

These incidents are rare, but a lack of concrete data has led the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to support the use hydrotherapy during labor progression, but that actual delivery happen out of water.

The Labor and Delivery Unit’s at Summa Health require patients who desire hydrotherapy during labor and delivery to read the educational materials regarding risks and benefits and participate in a formal consent process. Our practicing midwives and Obstetricians support the use of hydrotherapy and use clinical judgment to help assist patients in making the best informed decision regarding their labor course, all while keeping both the health of mom and baby at the forefront of our care.

Summa Health has a stringent policy that regulates sanitation, supervision, fetal monitoring, and even temperature variation to ensure the most favorable outcomes. We want to give every mother the best experience possible, while following the guidelines that will keep both our mothers and babies in the safest environment.

As with any decisions about your labor and delivery, make sure you talk with your OBGYN about what options are best for you and your baby.

Liz Seagraves, D.O.
Second Year Resident
OBGYN

Resources:

1. ACOG Committee Opinion 679
2. Maternal and Newborn Outcomes Following Waterbirth: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009 Cohort
3. ICEA Position Paper

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