Imagine your baby, before she is born, gently suspended in a protective bath of warm water − the amniotic fluid of your womb. It is the perfect medium to protect, cushion, and support your baby. It keeps her buoyant, so she can practice using her strong arms and legs. These warm waters act as a buffer to the outside world while your baby grows and develops.
After birth, most newborns find a bath in warm water perfectly comforting and sometime even fall asleep during bath time. From infancy to adulthood, many people take comfort in a warm bath, find peace in the weightlessness of floating in a pool, or use the massaging pressure of a jacuzzi to relieve pain and tension. It is no surprise then, that you can use water in a variety of ways to relieve pain and discomfort during pregnancy and labor as well.
Water is vital to life. we cannot live without it. Its ability to nourish, nurture, propagate and promote life fits so well in the birthing world.
– Jill Cohen, Midwife
Even if you are not planning a water birth, there are many ways to utilize the healing power of water leading up to and during your labor. Any time during pregnancy, but especially in the last few weeks, swimming is an excellent form of low impact, gentle exercise. Even just floating in a pool can relieve tired muscles and joints. Spending time in the pool in late pregnancy can help you relax your abdominal muscles and ligaments, help your pelvis maintain alignment, and prepare you for your upcoming labor.
Once labor kicks in, one of my favorite things to suggest is to take a warm shower. You can bring in a waterproof stool or chair, sit facing away from the shower head, and let the warm water massage your lower back. This position can be especially helpful if you are experiencing back labor. The shower is a great alternative if you do not have access to or are not ready to get into a birth tub yet. A warm shower is comforting and relaxing, but does not trigger the same release of hormones that submerging in a bath does. This is helpful when active labor hasn’t yet begun, because your labor is less likely to slow down or stop when you utilize the shower versus the bathtub.
Once you are in active labor, (when your contractions are about 5 minutes apart and are a minute in length) submerging in water will provide you with the best pain relief. At this point, there is little chance that your labor will slow or stop. Some women experience a brief period where their contractions do space out a bit, but things usually pick right back up again within 10 to 15 minutes.
The chemical and hormonal effects of immersion take effect after no less than twenty minutes and peak around ninety minutes. – Barbara Harper
What does this mean? Move around! Change positions! Getting in and out of the tub will not only help keep your contractions active, it will actually improve the pain relieving potential of the water when you are in the tub. So get up and use the toilet, walk around, and change positions every hour or so. Your doula or birth partner can help remind you when it is time to make a change.
If you do use the birth tub for an extended period of time, one of your helpers will need to make sure that the water temperature stays right around body temperature (98 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit). If the water is too hot, you and your baby are at risk of developing a fever. If the water is too cool, you are losing out on the pain relieving effects of the birth tub.
One more note about safety and birthing tubs, avoid adding any foreign substances to your tub water. This includes essential oils, herbs, soaps, or anything else that has the potential to irritate your skin or sensitive mucous membranes.
So we’ve talked a lot about how lovely warm water is during labor. But cool or even ice cold water can be helpful too. Something I always set up in the birthing room, especially during the second stage of labor (the pushing stage) is a bowl of ice water with a couple of clean washcloths. If you are feeling flushed, a cold, wrung out wash cloth on the back of your neck or your chest can feel very refreshing. If you keep multiple cloths in the bowl, your helpers will always have a cold one ready to go.
A frozen plastic water bottle can be used as a massage tool for your lower back, which is especially nice if you are experiencing back labor. Keep in mind, if you have an epidural in place, you will have reduced sensation in your lower body, therefore ice- or heat for that matter- should never be used for an extended amount of time.
We hope you have found these suggestions about how to utilize water during pregnancy and labor helpful. As always, consult your primary care provider before you use any alternative therapies during pregnancy. If you have had a positive experience using water during pregnancy or labor, we’d would love to hear about it, so come visit us on Facebook or Instagram and tell us about it.
Can I have a water birth with Phoenix Home Birth?
Yes! We’ve attended many water births. We can provide you with resources for birth tub rental or purchase as well as recommendations on additional supplies and things to think about when planning a water birth. For an in-depth look at the current research on water birth, we recommend visiting Evidence Based Birth’s article on the topic.