Everything you need to know about water births – expert advice from a midwife

Everything you need to know about water births – expert advice from a midwife

Water birth, it is something I had always turned my nose up at before having Leo. Sitting in a giant bath and pushing a baby out seemed such an odd concept to me, and if I’m honest, a little bit gross too. On the day I had Leo I was still dead set against it, that was until I realised gas and air does nothing and I was scared of having any of the harder pain relief. Suddenly, the thought of a birthing pool didn’t seem so crazy after all. I’m not going to say it didn’t hurt, but the pool helped so much and I was able to deliver Leo with no intervention at all and, considering he weighed 8lb 4, I got away with no stitches or grazing at all. Now I am all about water births, I definitely want one when the big day comes in October for baby number 2 to make his arrival and I tell everyone who asks how amazing they are. I am not a midwife though, I can only share my own experience. Today I have the lovely Lisa from The Irish Baby Fairy, a qualified midwife, to tell you everything you need to know about having a water birth. Fellow pregnant ladies, this one’s a must read. Over to you Lisa..

Everything you need to know about water births – Advice from a midwife, The Irish Baby Fairy.

A quick intro.

water births

My name is Lisa, I’m a mummy and a midwife. The Irish Baby Fairy is my blog about fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting. I am a midwife that trained and worked in the NHS but I’m now living and working in Ireland. Unfortunately, there is only one hospital in Ireland offering waterbirths (and I don’t work there!) but I did have the opportunity to be involved in some beautiful waterbirths while working in Northern Ireland. Wendy here at Naptime Natter has kindly asked me to do a guest post on her lovely blog about waterbirths as she is considering this option for her next birth. So here are a few common questions about waterbirths and my answers. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me on any of the social media links at the end of the article.

What are the benefits of waterbirth?

Water has been used for centuries for pain relief. Think about period pains – the relief of a hot water bottle on your tummy. See how relaxed you feel having a long hot soak in the bath after a long day. Even if water birth is not an option for you, labouring at home or in the hospital in a bath can be excellent for pain relief.

Waterbirth = hands off as far as midwives and medical staff are concerned. There will be no interventions which, is sadly, unusual in maternity care today. In fact, you shouldn’t even catch a glimpse of a doctor in a waterbirth situation. Usually it’s advisable to wait until you are at least 4cm dilated and in active labour before getting into the birthing pool. Once you are in the water, the weight is taken off your bump, you can be in any position you find comfortable, there’s no monitors on you, no cannula in your arm, no machines buzzing or beeping. The midwife will listen to your baby’s heart every 15 minutes (and every 5 minutes when you are pushing) with a sonicaid or a pinards. There’s no directed pushing, you just go with your body.  There are usually less or no vaginal examinations as the midwife looks for outward signs of full dilatation – behaviour changes, involuntary pushing, etc.

What if I thought I wanted a waterbirth but change my mind when I’m in the pool?

This is totally your prerogative. You can get in and out of the pool as much as you like. If you don’t find it’s helping you (some people just don’t like baths), then you can have your baby standing by the bed or kneeling on the bed or anywhere else you want to be in the room. The only time you can’t change your mind is when you are pushing the baby out and you lift yourself out of the water, then you can’t go back in again as exposure to the colder air can stimulate the baby to breathe so it’s not safe to go back under the water.

Does the water get cold after being in it so long?

Another role of the midwife in a waterbirth situation is strict monitoring of the water temperature. The midwife has a specific thermometer for this job and will make sure the water is at the precise temperature that’s needed for the safe delivery of the baby by adding hot water as needed.

What if my bowels move when I am in the water?

This is not a problem, it is very common for bowels to move when a woman is pushing her baby out. The midwife (or usually the poor student midwife gets this glamorous role!) will just remove any faecal matter from the pool discretely with a sieve designed for this purpose – nobody will even know. During the early stages of labour you can get in and out of the pool to the toilet as much as you like.

Can my partner join me in the water?

This depends on the hospital/trust and should be discussed antenatally. There is no reason why not, some men might be a bit squeamish about the whole thing but it’s your birth and your choice as a couple.

Can my other children be present at the birth?

If you are having a home birth then this is at your own discretion. It would need to be discussed with your hospital antenatally if you are having a hospital waterbirth. Also, you need to decide if your child would be emotionally ready for this and whether you want them there throughout the whole labour (which can be a long time) or just at the birth or just after the birth. Every child is different and you know your own child best.

How will the midwife help me if I am in the birthing pool?

Exactly the same way as she would help you on dry land! She will encourage and empower you to have the birth you want She will advise you when to change positions, she will listen to the baby’s heart rate, she will have everything ready for when baby is born, she will help you to bring your baby to your chest when you deliver him or her if necessary.

What are you supposed to wear for a waterbirth?

Anything you feel comfortable in! I have seen mums wear nothing, some will wear a bikini top, some will wear a hospital gown even. It is totally up to you!

What pain relief can I have in the birthing pool?

The water itself works like pain relief but a lot of mums would use entonox (gas and air) as well and this is fine. You can’t have opiates (such as pethidine or diamorphine) or an epidural if you are having a waterbirth.

Can I have a waterbirth if I am overdue?

It depends on what you define overdue as. A full term baby is a baby born any time between 37+0 weeks and 41+6 weeks so waterbirth should be fine within that gestation. Each hospital or trust has its own policy regarding who is eligible for waterbirths. Some of the reasons you wouldn’t be able to have a waterbirth are as follows:

– gestational diabetes

– pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure

– previous caesarean section

– prolonged rupture of membranes

– induced labour

– breech presentation

– IUGR baby

– history of complications in previous pregnancy eg post partum haemorrhage, shoulder dystocia, etc.

– anaemia (haemoglobin less than 10)

– meconium stained liquor (when your waters break, they have a green tinge)

– BMI >35

These are just some of the reasons, as I said, they differ between trusts / hospitals. If you are deemed high risk and you need continuous monitoring in labour then a water birth is usually out of the question. However, you can still use the water in early labour at home!

How will my baby breathe when it’s born?

Your baby will not breathe until it comes out of the water. This is why the temperature of the water is so important, it mimics the conditions of the baby being inside the uterus in the amniotic sac so they are not stimulated to breathe until they feel the air. This is fine as all the oxygen they need is still coming through the placenta and umbilical cord until the cord is cut.

Does it look like a shark attack?

Thanks for this question Wendy!!! After the baby is born, the water certainly gets a bit murky looking due to the normal blood loss just before the placenta comes out. In some hospitals, you are advised to come out of the pool once the baby is born (keeping baby skin to skin) for delivery of placenta as it’s very difficult to estimate blood loss in the water. If you don’t feel able to come out of the pool, the water can be emptied out or your midwife and partner can assist you out.

Tips for a good waterbirth experience

– Get a tour of the place you are having your birth so it doesn’t feel like total unchartered territory when you get there

– Discuss your waterbirth plan with your midwives at your antenatal appointments so it’s clear in your notes and have a birthplan.

– Bring a labour playlist of music with you on your phone or ipad – it gives your partner something useful to manage too.

– Request for lights to be dimmed, it’s far more relaxing

– If you are planning a home birth in a birthing pool – please please please have a go at inflating the pool and see how long it takes to fill it before you are due! Another job for your partner!

– Hypnobirthing works really well in conjunction with waterbirths so if it’s something you are considering it’s worth looking into. Also, if for any medical reason you have to leave the pool, you still have your hypnobirthing techniques to help you wherever you labour.

 Further evidence based information on waterbirths:

An American website about the evidence around the safety of waterbirths http://evidencebasedbirth.com/waterbirth/

Cochrane Review on Waterbirth http://www.cochrane.org/CD000111/PREG_immersion-in-water-in-labour-and-birth


Thank you so much Lisa for your really informative post and all your fabulous tips! I hope anyone who has been umming and ahhing over maybe having a water birth feels a lot more informed about it all now.


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If you enjoyed this post please check out Lisa’s blog The Irish Baby Fairy, it has been an excellent source of pregnancy information for me and Lisa also writes about everything from fertility to the parenting days.  

You can follow Lisa on social media too..





What are your thoughts on water births, did you have one? Maybe you are pregnant and considering a water birth, has this post helped you to make up your mind? I have got all my fingers crossed that my labour this time around will be just as positive as it was when I had Leo.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find Alex’s birth story inspiring to read.

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  1. Cheryl @ ReimerandRuby
    August 22, 2016 / 7:51 am

    A very very informative post… I have never thought of water birth when I had my two kids, I won’t qualify it either because I developed gestation diabetes when I was pregnant. But this post is very useful for those pregnant women who are considering one. #AnythingGoes

    • Wendy
      August 23, 2016 / 11:09 pm

      Lisa has offered so much useful information hasn’t she? Aww it is a shame you haven’t been able to experience a water birth, as long as baby arrives safely though it doesn’t really matter how they are get here 🙂 xx

  2. August 22, 2016 / 11:42 pm

    This is absolutely brilliant, always been wondering about so many things to do with water births, all questions answered! Thank you #anythinggoes

    • Wendy
      August 23, 2016 / 11:09 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 xx

  3. August 23, 2016 / 8:23 am

    This is a fabulously informative post about water births! It was never something that appealed to me either, and wasn’t an option with my first baby, as I was constantly monitored from the start, and confined to the bed. But with my second, I went to the birthing centre, the pool was available, so I gave it a go! And it was amazing!! I loved gas and air the first time around, and gas and air combined with the water, made actually quite a pleasant labour experience! I was just disappointed that I didn’t deliver in the water, the midwife got concerned about something right at the end, and I had to get out and deliver on the bed. I’d really recommend a water birth!! I’m shocked that there’s only one place in Ireland you can have one!
    This Mum’s Life recently posted…The Big Pink Link Week 28My Profile

    • Wendy
      August 23, 2016 / 11:14 pm

      Yes! Water births are amazing, I completely agree. It is a shame you couldn’t deliver in the water but atleast you got to be in the pool for most of your labour :). I know I can’t believe there’s only one place in Northern Ireland that does it, I bet the pregnant women are fighting over the pool!xx

  4. August 23, 2016 / 8:25 am

    Lots of great information here! When I had my first baby, I was ill so had to have an epidural at the earliest opportunity. When I had my second baby, I had a waterbirth with no need for any other pain relief. So I went from one extreme to the other!

    As someone who, in everyday life, goes for a shower or bath to relax, I thought a waterbirth would work really well for me, and it did. The instant I hit the water, I felt calmer and the pain levels dropped. It was wonderful. I would definitely recommend. Once baby was born, we were able to cuddle together in the water (it wasn’t that murky as I remember) for about 30min and it was such a special time. Wonderful! #TwinklyTuesday
    Lucy (@Lucy_at_home) recently posted…How To Coach Kids To Cope With FailureMy Profile

  5. August 23, 2016 / 2:17 pm

    Great and informative post! I got in the birthing pool while in labour with my daughter. It was so relaxing in there I nearly fell asleep! They wouldn’t let me actually give birth in there though as I had had pethadine earlier on. If I ever have another baby I would definitely push for a water birth! #TwinklyTuesday

  6. Amy and Tots
    August 25, 2016 / 8:50 am

    What a fab post! I’ve been considering a waterbirth at the birth centre this time as I’m not allowed my homebirth. It’s nice to be able to get a bit more information about it without having to search through many forum posts on Google! #TwinklyTuesday

  7. Sam | UK Family Fun
    August 26, 2016 / 9:18 am

    Fantastic tips – I loved my waterbirths but I remember the first time – you just don’t know what to expect x

  8. August 26, 2016 / 11:54 am

    Big thumbs up for water birth here! I was hoping I’d be able to have one, but you never know until the last minute if you’re physically OK or if there is one free. I was lucky and had a good experience. I had 3 days of early labour which I managed with a TENS machine. Arrived at the hospital 6cms dilated. I had to wait a couple of hours for the pool, but 4 hours later my little rocket man was born. Gas and air helped me whilst in the pool. I found the pushing part the easiest. I think the water really helped dull the pain. Remember the midwife saying ‘Here comes the ring of fire’, but I didn’t feel it! x #TheList

  9. August 26, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    I’ve had 2 babies. With the first, I tried a water birth but it just made the contractions stop. I had a very long labour and I was very skeptical about water births. However, my second baby was a water birth – very straightforward, no pain relief at all, and the water was amazing. Thanks for sharing all this info about water births.

  10. August 27, 2016 / 9:47 pm

    So much info. A great resource for anyone wanting to plunge in and gave one!#thelist

  11. Janet
    August 28, 2016 / 3:51 pm

    I never really considered a water birth with my children because I didn’t want any fuss. However, with my third child, who is now 4, I ended up the birthing pool room in our maternity unit. I was offered a water birth as a result because there was nobody else who required the pool. I agreed as I didn’t want any pain relief and the gas and air makes you feel sick after a while. I didn’t bother with anything when I gave birth to my second child because he was so quick. After a few hours in hospital I decided to try it. It was lovely! I kept my nighty on and the water was so soothing. My baby was born, but he had a short cord so we had to let some water out, and I decided to get out to deliver the placenta. Unfortunately, the delivery of the placenta was worse than the delivery as it didn’t want to leave and I had to have my bladder emptied with a glass tube type think that I felt click into place – it was awful – worse than the head delivery. Surprisingly, I felt really well afterwards and I do think it was because pain relief wasn’t used. When I had my first child the gas and air made me sick and I felt woozy off some pethadine. With the lads, I found I was able to pull myself around quicker and enjoy the time with my new born. Obviously, this was just my personal experience but the water birth was definitely my favourite birthing experience. Thanks for sharing the information Wendy, and also to Lisa for sharing her expert knowledge! Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes
    Janet recently posted…What’s Happening at RRW This Week?My Profile

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