I love being part of the peaceful stillness of a birth center room where a woman is resting quietly between contractions immersed in water. With the lights dimmed, her eyes closed and her partner quietly whispering in her ear, there is a sacred beauty to this moment before she starts to breathe through another contraction. Over half of the women the University of Michigan Certified Nurse Midwives care for will use the tub or a shower for relaxation during labor. We have done hundreds of waterbirths in the birth center over the past fifteen years, but now even more women are interested in this option.
Warm water immersion, also known as “hydrotherapy” has many benefits for women in labor. Many women find that laboring in a tub can promote relaxation, help with pain relief, and even “speed up” labor. Hydrotherapy can be especially helpful for women who are planning a low intervention, natural childbirth. If a tub is not available or mobility is an issue, the shower can also be very helpful in promoting relaxation and coping with contractions. Standing or sitting in the shower also speeds labor progress.
It’s important to distinguish that you can benefit from the healing aspects of water in either labor or birth. Some women choose to take advantage of a tub or shower only during the labor phase of their childbirth, while others choose to have a waterbirth. A waterbirth means that the baby is born underwater and is immediately brought out of the water and into the mother’s arms. Within a few minutes after birth we assist the mother and baby out of the tub for delivery of the placenta and the rest of post birth care.
All of the private rooms in our new 50-bed birth center at the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital feature showers, and eight of our rooms feature full tubs.
Tub use can be very beneficial for some women with essentially uncomplicated pregnancies and labors, but they are not appropriate for everyone. There are certain factors (like pre-term labor and use of pain medication) that exclude laboring in the tub as an option. The bottom line is that all our recommendations are made based on the health and well-being of the mom and baby.
Not all providers include waterbirth in their practice, so it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife about it early in your pregnancy.
Do you have questions about waterbirth or hydrotherapy during labor and childbirth? Use the comments tool below to let us know!
Joanne Motino Bailey, CNM, is the director of the Nurse Midwifery Service at University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. She is also a graduate of the University of Michigan Nurse-Midwifery Program and teaches women’s health in the Women’s Studies Department at U-M.
The birth center at the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital opened in December 2011, offering women a state-of-the-art place to welcome their baby to the world in the most caring and comfortable way possible. From private rooms to birthing tubs, each feature was designed around mom and baby’s every need. Learn more at www.UofMhealth.org/birthcenter.