Chandra Easton with baby Tara born at home in Santa Barbara, Ca. April 15, 2000.
by Jessica DeFilippo
Water birth equates to the midwife’s epidural. There is a reduction in pain during labor and birth in the water. Generally human beings recoil from pain. We hold back and brace ourselves from pain. This holding back and bracing causes tension. The tension increases pain often creating some degree of fear. A woman can find herself in the middle of a ‘fear-tension-pain’ cycle during labor on land.
As a midwife I feel so strongly about the use and benefits of water in labor and birth that both of our birth suites feature a tub or shower. Three quarters of our clients who birth at the birth center have chosen water birth for their baby’s first emergence into the world. Gently and calmly born.
There is only so much sensation a human body can perceive. When a woman is submerged in a birth tub during her labor she is able to focus on the pleasurable sensations of the water that surrounds her. Drawing her attention to the sensuous nature of the water supporting her allows her to relax more fully. When she lets go of tension that may have crept in with each strengthening wave of contractions on land this helps to bring her baby into the world. The buoyancy she experiences eases the work of all of her muscles. The water soothes her body and softens her work. She no longer has to support the weight of her body and belly and can simply float into any position. Birthing mothers know what they need to do to birth their babies. Among this innate wisdom is her choice of positions in labor and for birth. Not only is a woman trying to figure out how to cope with the growing intensity and frequency of her contractions, she is also helping her child negotiate his/her way out of her body and into the world. This requires a ‘dance’ of sorts. The water that engulfs her body provides the perfect environment to move freely.
Water also supports her perineum, helping to reduce the frequency and severity of tears. When her tension is reduced she relaxes her facial muscles and in turn also relaxes her bottom and vagina. Relaxed muscles stretch better.
When the mother is able to ease her infant into the water, the baby benefits as well. Babies are already wonderous beings who have begun life in water — amniotic fluid. In the months that proceed birth, the unborn child practices breathing amniotic fluid. This ‘breathing practice’ is in fact a measure of health in the fetus.
When birth happens in water there is no risk of dropping a baby. So in effect, this transition from intrauterine life to extra-uterine life is a more seamless one.
As a society we hear over and over again to simply ‘Say No to Drugs’. We strive to teach our children to avoid drug use in their lives, and yet when a child comes into this world on his/her very first day we medicate for birth. Water birth provides a pleasurable and sensuous environment for a woman to bring her infant child into her arms all without the use of any chemical drug. It would seem unethical to withhold this method of birth from our birthing mothers. Sadly, most hospitals don’t allow water birth.
Jessica DeFilippo is a Certified Professional and State Licensed Midwife and owner of LifeCircle Birth & Wellness Center in Shell Lake, WI. I have been involved in midwifery and birth work for 28 years and in private practice for 7 years. I enjoy offering birth center birth and feature water birth as a highlight of my practice.