Science In Brief

Chiropractic Literature Review


A new article casts doubt on the advisability of underwater childbirth. The practice of laboring and ultimately delivering while the mother is immersed has been a fad practice for a number of years. Proponents of the practice claim immersion during first stage of labor shortens labor time and reduces pain and subsequent need for anesthesia however, objective data supporting any real benefits appears to be thin. That aside, the new opinion paper, written in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that immersion during the labor process is probably safe, and is not likely to interfere with the normal care of the mother and child during labor since both fetal and maternal monitoring can still take place.

Immersion during second stage labor (actual delivery of the child) however, is strongly condemned. Possible problems which may be caused or complicated by underwater delivery have been cited in a previous study by Pinette and Wilson and include fresh water drowning, waterborne infectious diseases, cord ruptures with neonatal hemorrhage, infant hypoxia, and death. There have been reports in the literature of babies drowning, or almost drowning during the procedure. And while proponents of water birthing will no doubt argue its safety, and even given that the actual rate of complications may be very low, the best that can be said is that there doesn't appear to be any strong evidence of benefit to what MIGHT end up being a risky procedure with potentially dire consequences.

Author's Comments: Although not new, water birthing has been getting a fair amount of attention recently, with a couple of high profile celebrities choosing the procedure. In fact, water births were fairly popular over 34 years ago when my own son was born at home. Alternative health care providers and the home birthing community have been the most vocal proponents of water labor and delivery. And while I can understand why a mother interested in natural childbirth might gravitate toward almost anything that would ease her pain during labor, I can't for the life of me understand how anyone can consider underwater delivery of the child to be a "natural" experience.

Marine mammals excepted, I am unable to come up with a single example of a mammal giving birth to its' young underwater. As chiropractors I think it's almost second nature for us to be constantly on the lookout for natural health care alternatives, but there comes a point at which common-sense must prevail. The only thing truly "natural" is for newborn infants to begin breathing air immediately after leaving the birth canal.

Author: Mark R Payne DC

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