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Water births ‘provide clear benefits’ for moms and their newborns

Researchers analyzed 36 previous studies, published between 2000 and 2021, involving more than 150,000 women.

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Asian pregnant woman. Mom and newborn baby. Mother day and International women day. Relax and recreation at swimming pool.
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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Water births provide “clear benefits” for healthy mums and their newborn babies, according to new research.

They result in fewer medical interventions and complications during and after the birth than standard care - as well as higher levels of satisfaction for the mum.

The review of previous studies, published by BMJ Open, also found that water births "significantly reduced" the use of epidurals, injected opioids as well as pain and heavy bleeding after the birth.

A water birth involves using a birthing pool to achieve relaxation and pain relief, either exiting the pool for the birth, so the newborn can emerge into air to breathe, or remaining in the birthing pool for the birth, bringing the baby to the surface to start breathing.

The researchers wanted to compare the extent of healthcare interventions needed during and after labor between the two different types of water birth and to see if outcomes differed between water birth and standard care not involving a birthing pool.

They analyzed 36 previous studies, published between 2000 and 2021, involving more than 150,000 women. Most of the studies were carried out in obstetric units.

The studies included a range of interventions and outcomes such as induced labor; artificial breaking of waters; use of epidurals; admission to intensive care, and breastfeeding.

Study lead author Dr. Ethel Burns, of Oxford Brookes University, said that the pooled data analysis of the study results showed that water birth, regardless of whether women birth in or out of the pool, “has clear benefits to women” in obstetric units, where most births take place and where healthcare interventions and complications are more likely than in midwife-led units.

She said: "A water birth was as safe as standard care for healthy mums and their newborns.

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"Compared with standard care, a water birth significantly reduced the use of epidurals, injected opioids, episiotomy, as well as pain and heavy bleeding after the birth.

"And it increased mothers’ satisfaction levels and the odds of intact perineum. And there was no difference in the rate of C-sections.

“Water immersion can significantly increase the likelihood of an intact perineum and reduce episiotomy, an intervention which offers no perineal or foetal benefit, can increase postnatal pain, anxiety, and impact negatively on a woman’s birth experience."

The findings showed that there were more instances of umbilical cord breakage among water births, but the rate was still low: 4.3 per 1,000 births in water compared with 1.3 per 1,000 births with standard care.

The researchers suggested that may be linked to pulling on the umbilical cord when the newborn is brought up out of the water.

Dr. Burns added: “Water immersion provides benefits for the mother and newborn when used in the obstetric setting, making water immersion a low-tech intervention for improving quality and satisfaction with care.

“In addition, water immersion during labor and waterbirth alter clinical practice, resulting in less augmentation, episiotomy, and requirements for pharmacological analgesia.

"Water immersion is an effective method to reduce pain in labor, without increasing risk.”

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