Vaginal Birth

Using water for labour and birth

Are you thinking about using water during your labour and/or birth? Here is everything you need to know, along with some commonly asked questions.

Emiliana Hall

What is a water birth?

A water birth is when a baby is born into water. Some people choose to use water just during their labour and then birth their baby outside of the water, and some choose to use it for just the birthing stage, and some choose to use it throughout. All are perfectly fine and it really comes down to how you are feeling/what you need to do on the day.

Water birth at home

Birthing your baby at home means you could simply use your bath if it is big enough for you to feel comfortable in, or you could hire, buy or borrow a pool. See links at the end of this blog for more information and recommendations. If you do get a pool, it usually needs to be on the ground floor (due to the weight of the water) and you need a hose long enough to reach from a tap to the pool, which is normally supplied with the pool. The footprint of the pool is usually around 193cm x 165cm for a regular size and around 165cm x 145cm for the mini size for smaller spaces.

If borrowing a pool, you usually need to buy a plastic liner which is disposable, but if you hire or buy one, the pool company will supply these to you.

The pool temperature should be at a level that feels comfortable for you, and not above 37.5 degrees. This can be monitored using a thermometer. Your midwife will help you with this too.

When you have finished using the pool, the water can go back through the hose using the attachment supplied by the pool company.

Birth pool in a box

Water birth in hospital or at a birth centre

If using a pool at a birth centre or hospital, you will be in a private room and the pool will either be fixed, like a large hot tub or it may be an inflatable pool (similar to home birth pools). The midwives will prepare the pool for you, usually for the later stages of labour, rather than throughout labour. This is so more people get a chance to use them.

birth centre

What should I wear in a pool?

Anything that isn’t restrictive or will feel uncomfortable when wet, or nothing at all! If wearing a bikini top or bra, a front opening one is recommended for when meeting baby for skin to skin and establishing breastfeeding if you wish to.

What if I do a poo?

Midwives are excellent at scooping out any poo’s with their special sieve and you probably won’t even notice it’s happened! This is perfectly normal and not something you need to worry about. But if it does worry you, speak to your midwife for reassurance too.

What are the benefits of a water birth?

  • If you enjoy baths and warming water, the relaxation gained from sinking into deep water can be extremely calming and reassuring. Especially during the later stages of labour as waves (contractions) become more intense. The mind-body connecting is very powerful and if your body feels relaxed, so will your mind.

  • Reduced likelihood for need of other pain relief methods. It’s not that we discourage medicated pain relief methods, but all medication comes with consideration factors, particularly with side effects and so reducing the need for them can be a benefit for some people.

  • The atmosphere that a dimmed room with a pool creates is extremely oxytocin friendly, which is the all important hormone we need for labour to progress.

  • The buoyancy of the water can make help you to get into more comfortable upright but restful positions for both you and baby, which can technically allow labour to progress more efficiently as baby has more optimal space and the use of gravity to move down the birth path.

  • Using water can help to soften the perineum and relax you which in turn can reduce the likelihood of tearing.

What are the considerations of a water birth?

  • If any special circumstances arise or your preferences for medicated pain relief change during your labour, you may need to leave the pool.

  • Sometimes, waves (contractions) can slow down, however this doesn’t mean that labour has stopped. If this happens, enjoy the feeling of weightlessness and take the moment to rest. Things will soon pick back up again!

  • The cost of hiring a pool for a home birth can be around £120-£160, plus £100 deposit. You can find places to borrow pools for no or little cost- local doulas sometimes lend them out and there are usually local pregnancy Facebook groups that will be helpful for finding someone local to you too.

  • There is no statistical evidence that there is any more risk of an infection to both you and your baby with a water birth.

Can I have a water birth?

Water births are available at home and in NHS hospitals. Everyone is entitled to use water for their labour, but there may be individual factors to consider first:

Can I have a water birth if my pregnancy is deemed as high risk?

It really depends on what factor(s) have put you in the high risk category. Always remember that there is a discussion to be had around every single aspect of your choices and care, so if using water is something you would like to do, ask your midwife for the benefits and risks for your own individual circumstances. Here are some common reasons people may wonder if using water is a possibility for them:

Can I have a water birth with an induction?

Yes, but there are some factors to consider. Depending on the type of induction particularly:

Stretch and sweep method: There are no reasons why you could not use water during labour and/or birth after a stretch and a sweep.

Artificial rupture of membranes: This is the amniotic sac of waters being broken, and if labour then starts within a certain time period, there should be no reason that water cannot then be used. However if it does not and you decide to use a further induction method, other factors will need to be considered.

Hormone pessary or gel: Once the baby’s heart rate is confirmed as normal and there are no adverse reactions to the hormone, you would normally only need to be monitored intermittently after this induction method. This can be done with the waterproof monitor which is always used in the water by midwives to check on baby. We would advise talking to your midwife in advance of the hormone induction being given so that they can prepare for your water birth preference with plenty of time.

Hormone drip: This method means more monitoring is needed, but it is still possible. Again, once the baby’s heart rate is confirmed as normal and there are no adverse reactions to the hormones, you should be OK to use the pool if one is available. The hospital would also need to have a wireless telemetry monitor available to monitor baby whilst you are in the water as continuous monitoring is advised after the hormonal drip. We would advise talking to your midwife in advance so that a monitor can be made available to you on your induction date.

You can find lots more information on induction of labour, water birth and your rights here: Aims

Can I have a VBAC water birth?

Yes. Options in labour are the same as for any other birth, including use of the birthing pool.

Can I have a water birth with twins?

Yes, twin labours and births can use water too. If this is a preference or you would like to understand more about this option, then speak to your midwife or obstetrician about your own individual circumstances. It’s really important to understand the benefits and risks for your own individual situation so you can make an informed decision on what’s best for you and your babies.

Where can I get a birth pool?

Here are some recommended places to find a pool:

To borrow: Check with your local doulas, yoga teachers, pilates teachers- anyone who is connected to pregnancy and/or birth. Local pregnancy-related Facebook groups would be a great place to ask if anyone knows of someone who lends them out locally.

To hire: Barefoot Pools are a nation-wide birth pool hire company with great reviews.

To buy: Birth Pool in a Box are also a great, reputable retailer. You can get 10% off by following this link.

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