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Do water births create a greater risk of birth injuries?

In recent years, water births have grown more popular in New York and throughout the country, with proponents arguing that giving birth in a tub of warm water can ease labor pain, speed up delivery and make the birthing process easier for both mother and baby. Of course, there are many who do not support water births as a safe and healthy birthing option. That group now includes U.S. obstetricians and pediatricians who, in a statement, said that the safety of water births has not been sufficiently proven.

In their statement, the doctors distinguished water births from laboring in a tub, which most believe is completely safe. Giving birth in a tub, they say, creates a risk of birth injuries such as choking or drowning, which can occur when a baby takes his or her first breath underwater.  

But midwives and other water birth proponents point out the lack of research on the drowning risk, arguing that anecdotal evidence is not sufficient to cast such doubt on the safety of water births. Even if those risks do exist, they say, a trained professional will follow the established water birth guidelines, which include checking that the umbilical cord is long enough to lift the baby to the surface, and bringing a baby up above water right away. If doctors or midwives do not follow those guidelines, they could cause significant harm to the infant, and could ultimately be named in a birth injury lawsuit.

Even when the guidelines are followed, though, there remains a risk of infection, which is why it is recommended that a midwife or doctor specifically trained in water birth is always present. Further, both groups agree that water birth is not a good option for women with high-risk pregnancies, a history of cesarean sections and other health problems.

Source: NPR, “Doctors Say Don't Give Birth To Baby In A Tub, But Midwives Disagree,” Nancy Shute, March 23, 2014

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