Water births may not pose harm to newborns

The process wherein a baby is intentionally born under water either in a tub or a pool is termed as water birth. Supporters of water birth say it results in a more relaxed, less painful labor experience but critics argue that safety of water birth has not been scientifically proven. However new research at the Oregon State University suggests that there is no evidence of water birth posing any increased harm to the child.

They examined outcome data from over 6,500 midwives who were witness to water births in the United States and found out that the babies born under water were not likely to have a low Apgar score or required a transfer to the hospital after birth or be hospitalized in their first six weeks of life as compared to newborns not born in water. Apgar score is a method to quickly summarize the health of newborn children.

The results were published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s health. This research study is believed to be the largest study on water births till now and the first to examine the practice in the United States, said lead author, Marit Bovbjerg, an epidemiology instructor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. “The findings suggest that water birth is a reasonably safe, low-intervention option for women who face a low risk of complications during the birthing process,” Bovbjerg said. “These are decisions that should be made in concert with a medical professional.”

The research involved analyzing birthing outcome data collected from 2004 to 2009  by the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, commonly referred to as MANA Stats. Most of the 17,000 women in the study were attended by certified Professional Midwives, who provided detailed reports on their cases from their medical records. From the database, it was seen that more than 6500 women gave birth in water either at home or at a freestanding birth center. These outcomes were compared to the outcomes of non-water births and the researchers found that the babies born in water were not likely to require a transfer to the hospital, nor were the mothers. However, the researchers found an 11 percent increase in perineal tearing among mothers who gave birth in water.

“For some women, that potential risk of tearing might be worth taking if they feel they will benefit from other aspects of a water birth, such as improved pain management,” Bovbjerg said. “There is no one correct choice. The risks and benefits of different birthing options should be weighed carefully by each individual.”

The researchers’ findings are congruent with outcomes reported in other water birth studies, says Cheyney one of the Co-authors, medical anthropologist and an OSU associate professor, but are contrary to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee Opinion.

“Those groups support laboring in water, but caution against giving birth while immersed,” Cheyney said. “Our findings suggest that water birth is a reasonably safe option for low-risk women, especially when the risks associated with pharmacologic pain management, like epidural anesthesia, are considered.”

Source: Oregon state University

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