Water births: Are they safe for babies?

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by JIM BERGAMO

KVUE

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 8:27 AM

AUSTIN -- In March the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOG) both recommended water births only be performed in research studies.

The organizations said water births have no proven health benefits and may do more harm to babies.

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved a bath,” said Brio Yiapan-Cooney.

It’s that love of the tub that intrigued Yiapan-Cooney about the idea of delivering her first child Zuri via water birth at the Austin Area Birthing Center.

“To me a bath is just a way to relax and unwind,” she said.  “So the idea of laboring in the bathtub sounded like the closest I could get to relaxing while in labor.”

As more expectant mothers are exposed to water births, medical professionals who support water immersion labor and delivery tout its benefits.

“With water in labor, it reduces the mother’s stress hormones so she has less adrenaline,” said Joan Doglio-Smith, R.N., with the Austin Area Birthing Center.

“So the transition from the womb into the water is very peaceful and natural transition,” said Yiapan-Cooney.  “The baby doesn’t necessarily have that shock of cold air, noise and sound that it would if was born not in the water.”

From the moment expectant moms come into the Austin Area Birthing Center everything is about establishing a soothing mood – from the music – right down to lights in the tub.

“The mother’s relaxation is the goal, but also we know that if a mother is stressed then her baby is stressed,” said Joan Doglio-Smith. It’s for both of them that we do that.”

Julia Dinolfo is expecting her first child – a baby girl – in just a few weeks.  She's opting for a traditional delivery over a water birth, even though she says the water immersion delivery does sound attractive.

“But a lot of hospitals now are trying to recreate that type of experience,” said Dinolfo.  “You kind of get the best of both worlds with a nice, more comfortable roomy environment with the advanced medical attention at your fingertips if it becomes necessary.”

Dinolfo’s OB/GYN, Kimberly Loar, M.D., says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has come out against water births because of concerns babies could breathe in some of the water which may contain bacteria.  However she says the main concerns are the variables that can occur during the final stage of labor when doctors need access to the baby.

“Things like the shoulder getting in the way, and taking the time to lift the mom you could really lose some valuable seconds that could really affect life or death,” said Loar.

Loar says there are risks with any type of birth, but water births may be more risky for the baby.

“I don’t think the mom would – once she understood the facts – put her baby at risk just to increase her satisfaction with the labor,” said Loar.

Brio says she and her husband did exhaustive research and are confident a water birth is best for both mom and baby, and she says she would do it again.

“I think it went pretty much the way I would have imagined it,” she said.

Go here and here for medical information detailing the pros and the cons of water births.

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