Hydrotherapy - the alternative to laboring on land…
Although the media typically shows a laboring mother comfortably positioned on her bed during labor and birth, evidence based research shows that this is not the ideal place to labor!
If you have ever heard of waterbirth you may have raised your brow and thought what is this actually all about? Do you ever use the shower or tub to decompress when your stressed or after a tough athletic workout? Well first of all waterbirth is much different from hydrotherapy during labor, and yes, it is safe since the baby is going from one water environment to another. Typically a waterbirth occurs at a birth center or home-birth; you don’t see them in a hospital setting (although I have witnessed a few that didn’t get out of the tub in time).
What I am suggesting is using the water during labor as a comfort measure to ease the pain from uterine contractions. Most labor and delivery rooms will have a shower, and many have tubs as well. We encourage the partner to get in with the laboring mom (warning: partners please wear swim gear, laboring moms this is optional). Using the shower is a great way to relax when the labor pains really start kicking in, and yes it really does work! The uterus is one huge muscle and when you incorporate hydrotherapy it can help ease the pain by allowing the brain to release endorphins; endorphins have properties similar to opiates and work as a natural pain killer. The shower works wonders but the tub is better! We often call the tub the “aqua-doula” or the “natural-epidural.” You will benefit most by emerging yourself in water up to the nipple line.
A Cochrane review of 3243 women states the following:
Water immersion during the first stage of labor significantly reduced epidural/spinal analgesia requirements, without adversely affecting labor duration, operative delivery rates, or neonatal wellbeing.
Immersion in water during the second stage of labor increased women’s reported satisfaction with their birth experience.
The positive physiological effects of hydrotherapy such as buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, and associated thermal changes, are relevant to women laboring in water, where labor is defined as including the first, second (birth) and third stages. The buoyancy of water enables a woman to move more easily than on land.
Although standard practice is to labor in the bed, research supports upright positions that go with gravity and tons of movement. Lying in bed on your back is one of the worst possible places to be. You compress nerves and blood vessels that run through the trunk of your pelvis. Being in the water allows the movement to happen more freely and comfortably. So bring out the Mr. Bubbles and relax!