Why giving birth in water is becoming more popular

Kelly Boateng gives her son Kingston a bath. Kelly has opted for the water birth method for Kingston and her two other children. Photo by Cole Bennetts
Kelly Boateng gives her son Kingston a bath. Kelly has opted for the water birth method for Kingston and her two other children. Photo by Cole Bennetts

When Amali Boateng entered the world, she looked like "superman". Her little hand was raised above her head as she left the womb and moved to the surface of the warm bath.

"She was superman," said her mother Kelly Boateng, 36, who chose to give birth in water. "It made pushing her out a bit tricky, but the bath really helped with that, I felt more relaxed and focused."

Mrs Boateng said she was so sure the bath helped alleviate the pain that she chose the water birth option for her second child Makeda, now five, and Kingston, three months.

"I didn't even consider the other options; I gave birth to Makeda in a birth pool at home because I had such a positive experience the first time around."

A study published in the latest Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has found 60 per cent of women who want to labour and/or give birth in water end up taking the plunge.

The study of 502 women at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth found that of those who made it into the water, only 59 per cent gave birth in water.

The main reasons 40 per cent of the 502 women did not end up labouring in water, the Curtin University researchers suggested, were because of an induction in labour, a lack of time to prepare the pool, or an undiagnosed breech.

"Our research supports water birth for women with a low-risk pregnancy, but they have to be cared for by people that are skilled clinicians who know what they're doing," said lead author Lucy Lewis.

They found women who gave birth in water were more likely to experience shorter first (when the cervix opens) and second (when the baby is born) stages of labour, and a third stage (when the placenta is delivered) lasting 11 to 30 minutes.

Additionally, these women were three times more likely to avoid suffering a major tear in the perineum region.

The researchers examined 502 births at King Edward Memorial Hospital between July 2015 and June 2016.

Dr Lewis said water births at the hospital had trebled in the past six years, proving it was becoming a popular choice.

However, there was a lack of data generally on water births and a dire need for it.

"Maternity units who offer water immersion for labour and birth should collect and publish their data," she said.

Professor Hannah Dahlen, a midwifery expert at Western Sydney University, said the research backed up her separate findings that water births were advantageous for mother and baby, but only in low-risk cases.

She said mothers were less likely to need pain relief and suffer cuts to the perineum and more likely to experience greater satisfaction.

"There's something about the rim of the bath around them that actually makes them feel safe because people find it a little harder to get at them and do things, so it feels like a protected space," she said.

"In one of our studies we found with water births there's a great sense of women being able to brace their heads and move their legs in extraordinary ways, which we think is them adjusting the position of the head of the baby by flipping their legs out like a frog, and that's probably why they end up having straightforward births."

Mrs Boateng, who runs a small business, said after three successful water births she wouldn't recommend any other way.

"I went from leaning on my back on a bed, where I was struggling to push because it's like you're pushing uphill, to hopping into a bath and instantly feeling more relaxed and at ease," she said.

This story Why giving birth in water is becoming more popular first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.