There is no getting around it, labor is painful, uncomfortable, and exhausting. However, there are several methods that can reduce the pain, make you more comfortable, and give you rest.
The first of these comfort measures is hydrotherapy. It is often called water therapy or waterbirth. It is essentially using water to help you relax. Water labor was first recorded in France in 1803. The two most common ways of using water in labor are in a shower or bathtub/pool.
“Numerous studies have shown that hydrotherapy, when used correctly during labor, is safe, reduces pain, and frequently speeds labor.” ~ Penny Simkin (The Birth Partner, Fourth Edition, p. 142)
Most women enjoy a nice soak in a tub from time-to-time. We find it relaxing and helps soothe achy muscles. Showers are also great. My husband gets migraines occasionally and the only thing that seems to help is to take a hot shower.
Warm water relaxes tense muscles, soothes aches and pains, and helps reduce mental and emotional stress. Reducing stress, pain, and tension is a great way to reduce adrenaline and increase the production of oxytocin and endorphins. Turning the lights off and lighting a few candles will increase melatonin giving an extra boost to oxytocin as well. This increase in oxytocin will strengthen the contractions and speed up the labor progress without the added pain.
The 2014 Position Statement by the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) stated that hydrotherapy may also “hasten cervical dilation, resolve labor dystocia, and contribute to postpartum maternal satisfaction with childbirth.” The water causing the hormones to be more effective leads to the perineum becoming “more elastic and relaxed reducing the incidence and severity of tearing.”
This article cited a book by Sheila Kitzinger called The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth, in which the author stated, “Lying in warm water increases venous pressure so that veins can return blood to the heart more efficiently. It also enhances cardiac action and slows the pulse rate.” The improved circulation also results in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles and more oxygen going to the baby, thus decreasing the chance of the baby becoming distressed.
Penny Simkin, in her book “The Birth Partner,” states “These benefits last for up to two hours or so, after which changes in the woman’s circulation may lead to a slowing of contractions and the return of pain.” She suggests getting out of the water after 1.5 hrs and waiting at least 30 mins before returning to the water. Simkin also suggests using the shower in early labor and saving the tub or pool for active labor.
While most facilities and caregivers permit hydrotherapy in labor, many do not feel comfortable delivering a baby in the water. If you choose to incorporate hydrotherapy in your birth, keep in mind that you may be asked to exit the tub/pool/shower when you begin to push. The ACNM did state, “Regarding potential risks associated with hydrotherapy during labor, no evidence demonstrates that immersion during the first stage of labor affects maternal intrapartum or postpartum infection, length of second or third stage labor, type of delivery, perineal laceration incidence or severity, postpartum blood loss, rate of hemorrhage, or postpartum depression. Similarly, no relationship has been found between hydrotherapy and abnormal fetal heart rate patterns, meconium stained amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood pH values, newborn Apgar scores, infections, admissions to special care nurseries, or rate of breastfeeding at six weeks postpartum.” However, there are some situations where being in the water may make complications more difficult to handle.
While most situations are perfectly safe, your caregiver will let you know what he/she is comfortable with. It is always a good idea to check with your birth location and caregiver prior to labor so there are no surprises.
The Texas Department of State Health Services and The Texas Midwifery Board About the Profession released guidelines for waterbirth July 2015. If you plan on having a waterbirth, especially in a home birth situation, it would be a good idea to read through these guidelines in order to provide the safest environment for a waterbirth.
If you are considering renting a pool for your home birth or at a birthing center, I highly recommend my friend, Maryn at Buoyant Birth. They can serve anywhere in the continental United States but are locally located in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, including Denton.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you are interested in learning about more comfort measures in labor, check out my Comfort Measures page.