Babies greeting the world under water

    A new birthing suite at a center in Wilmington is giving women a chance to deliver their babies under water.

    Waterbirth is becoming more popular as more and more mothers are looking to go back to the basics of birthing.

    Listen:

    [audio:090619kgbirth.mp3]

    Little Rowyn Bicking made her debut last month in a hot tub.

    Bicking: It was wonderful, because the water was just fantastic. Just feeling bouyant and the warmth of the water and feeling safe and secure.

    That’s Rowyn’s mom, Daisy. She opted for delivering in a birthing tub for the reason many people want to slip into a 100-degree bath – because it feels good.

    Bicking: Not knowing what to expect with the birth process, I didn’t know if that was going to be what I was going to like, but in my mind thinking about the stress and strain of birth and what it does to your body, that seemed initially to have a lot of appeal to it.

    An epidural did not appeal to her. Bicking says she wanted to avoid medications and other interventions.

    Bicking: I think those interventions are important if you need them, but I wanted to see if I could do it without first.

    That would avoid any possible complications associated with invasive pain management. Bicking decided the Birth Center in Wilmington was a good fit. Midwife Nicole Black says more and more women there had been asking for waterbirth, so the center installed a tub a few months ago.

    Black: We sort of thought, you know, we need to stay up with the times and what women want and what makes clinical sense, we need to offer it. It was huge and women love it. And we’ve seen a huge flux of women coming to us specifically for waterbirth.

    Black says the water is actually a pretty effective pain killer for women seeking to avoid drugs. And there are other plusses.

    Black: We do find that there’s a lot less tearing in the tub and there’s no need for episiotomy. That’s another nice thing is the warm water just helps everything, all the muscles relax and all the tissues relax.

    The tub at the birth center is specially-designed for delivering. It has under water lights to help the midwife and nurse see what’s going on; there’s an antibacterial coating that can withstand the triple disinfection between uses. And the center is right down the block from a hospital. Daisy’s husband, Dean.

    Dean: Waterbirth didn’t scare me at all. The baby breathes through the umbilical cord until the baby comes out of the water, so there’s no issue in that direction. So it’s not like the baby’s going for a swim for an extended period of time.

    There have been case reports of babies gasping for air while still under the water, and coming close to drowning. Joshua Johannson, the medical director of labor and delivery at Pennsylvania Hospital, says no one is clear on just how extensive the risk is for waterbirth.

    Johannson: What makes it difficult is we don’t actually know how many water births actually happen. A lot of them are homebirth, midwives. If you want to look internationally you might see more of them in Europe. So there’s not a good way of keeping track of that.

    Johannson says there does seem to be less use of epidural during waterbirth. But until there are good numbers backing up its safety, the mainstream obsetrics community is going to be a little hesitant in encouraging that route.

    Johannson: The difficult thing about saying the pros and cons for normal labor and delivery, if you take healthy women generally no matter what you do they’re going to have a good outcome.

    Some hospitals have installed birthing tubs. South Jersey Healthcare’s Elmer Hospital has offered waterbirth since 2003. And Johannson’s own hospital has jacuzzis in its birthing suites to let women labor in the water. Whether waterbirth is more or less risky than traditional birth is unclear. But cost is one definite bonus. For prenatal, birth and postpartum care, the Birth Center charges a fraction of a hospital birth. And they say most health insurers do cover it.

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