Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Waterbirth and a Book Review: "The Water Birth Book"

I vacillated on how to write this entry - I wanted to write a review of this book, but doing so would lead me to writing of my own experiences with waterbirthing, which I had planned to save for another entry. For now, I am going to combine the two and see how it works.

The Water Birth Book
Janet Balaskas
2004, 294 pages

This book is definitely going on my "buy as soon as possible" list. It's a keeper! I loved it.

Water birth is one of the world's best-kept secrets. It is a low-cost and pretty much risk-free method of reducing labor pain and encouraging physiologic birth without the use of drugs or harmful obstetric interventions. The statistics on the success and safety of both laboring and birthing in water are absolutely phenomenal.

With all of the positives (and the lack of negatives) surrounding water birth (and by that I mean both the practice of laboring in water and the practice of birthing in water), one would logically conclude that most hospitals would be well-equipped with facilities for allowing birthing women to labor and birth in water, right?


Waterbirth is virtually unavailable in American hospitals. Although some hospitals are equipped for waterbirth, most are not. In our area, I know of only one midwife in one of all our local hospitals who does waterbirth, and as of last month the hospital was planning to revoke her waterbirth privileges. (Grrrr.....)

Unfortunately it isn't too hard to look for the answers to that...

Answer #1 is pride on the part of hospital administrators - "No one can tell us how to do our jobs, and this is the way we've always done it!"

Answer #2 is money. Waterbirth is virtually cost-free (fill a tub, and there you are!), unlike other costly methods of pain control (such as epidurals and other drugs, which are quite pricey). Taking it further, waterbirth then reduces the need for other obstetric procedures which are drug-induced, for example, caesareans due to "failure to progress" after an epidural, forceps and episiotomies due to a mum with an epidural laboring on her back with no urge to push, pitocin due to epidural-weakened contractions, etc. etc. etc. Furthermore, waterbirth virtually eliminates the need for obstetric procedures such as episiotomies or stitching tears (waterbirth mums almost never tear). So although waterbirth is absolutely wonderful for mothers and babies, it is not good for hospital incomes (hospitals usually make most of their money out of their maternity wards). Thus, hospitals have relatively little financial interest in installing waterbirth facilities.

Waterbirth is more commonly available in freestanding birth centers staffed by midwives. Unfortunately, our only valley birth center closed last year, and there are no plans to open a new one (although I don't know if that birth center offered waterbirth or not).

Most waterbirths in America are homebirths attended by midwives. That's pretty much the only way to get a waterbirth here. Thankfully I love birthing at home, but it makes it rather tough on women who want to birth in hospitals. I hope that someday the American medical system will wake up enough to make waterbirth facilities available to in-hospital birthing women.

My own experience with laboring in water was wonderful. My labor lasted from 4:28 am. till 10:35 p.m. I got into the shower sometime around midday and took a long shower, and it felt amazing. I don't know how it happens, but water has a remarkable effect in reducing labor pain. I had been really uncomfortable, and I felt great! When I got out of the shower, I started feeling yucky again.

When my midwife came to visit mid-afternoon, I asked if I could labor in the tub. She gave the okay, and I headed straight for the tub and stayed there for several hours. It was great! It sounds unbelievable, but all of my labor pain vanished when I entered the water. Unfortunately it started building again from there, but the relief factor was still amazing. (The quoted value is a reduction in pain of 40%.) From there I moved, sometime mid-evening, to the birthing pool which my hubbie and doula set up in our living room (our "birthing pool" was a large inflatable pool), and I stayed there until about 9:30 p.m. I did end up birthing on land due to being rather confused and needing the help of gravity to push (something our midwife said is quite common with first-time mums), but the majority of my active labor was spent in water. If we are ever blessed with another child, I hope to have a complete waterbirth for that baby.

I could not have done childbirth without laboring in water. Frankly, I don't know how anyone can. My friend labored for eighteen hours on land before getting an epidural, and I take my hat off to her - I could not have done it. Water is what made labor possible for me.

Waterbirth is unparalled in terms of safety. Although there are conditions that make waterbirth unadvisable, laboring in water is completely safe for most women and babies.

"The Water Birth Book" is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in waterbirth. Janet Balaskas, as usual, does a phenomenal job of telling the history and practice of waterbirth, and giving guidelines for safe waterbirth. Subjects include:

- History of waterbirth
- Benefits of water during labor and birth
- Preparing for birth
- Using water during the different stages of labor and birth
- Testimonials
- Complications that preclude waterbirth
- Other methods of pain relief

Janet gives in-depth thought and discussion to the safety of waterbirth, giving guidelines for safe waterbirth (temperatures, etc.) and describing the biological mechanisms which keep a baby safe during a waterbirth.

I love Janet's writing. She is thorough, balanced, clear, concise and well-organized. Despite how much I loved this book, I don't have too much to say! Just, "Buy this book!" If you are at all interested in having a waterbirth or learning more about waterbirth, this is a great book for your library. I highly recommend it! I am definitely going to add it to my growing library, and it will definitely be worth the time and money.

Highly recommended!

1 comment:

  1. I gave birth at Bethany Birth Center in April 2007 and had a water birth. My entire labor lasted 4.5 hours. My husband and I are interested in giving our first born a sibling and we are trying to figure out our options before attempting to conceive again. We live in an apartment and I know they would not be supportive of home birth. I refuse to have a land birth. There was something so clean and natural about giving birth in water and I can't imagine doing it any other way. I have known too many women who gave birth in hospital beds and are traumatized from the experience. I really wish there were more options in Phoenix supporting water birth. Let me know if you hear of anything...


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