Women choose to give birth in water instead of at the hospital

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Since the 1960s the standard way for a woman to give birth is at a hospital. While the numbers of mothers choosing to give birth at home may be increasing, the increase is slight. But one method of giving birth is gaining popularity among women who do want to deliver at home – and that’s the water birth.

One-hundred years ago, most all women gave birth at home. By the 1930s, though, women’s options began to change. Between 1935 and 1945 hospital births more than doubled to 75 percent. And by the 60s, with more hospital beds and insurance covering the bills just three percent of moms went through labor and delivery at home.

The numbers are even lower today with only one percent – or about 30,000 U.S. women having their baby at home. But these women have more options than those a hundred years ago.

24-year-old Lindsey Marsolo gave birth to her son, Cameron, a few months ago – at home, in a tub full of warm water. Marsolo is one of many women opting for the increasingly popular water birth.

Women, who choose a water birth, can labor in a tub of warm water, and then get out for the delivery, or they can choose to have their baby in the water. Marsolo, who was having her first baby, did both.

“It was fabulous. I will never, I don’t ever want to try it the other way. Because it was just, it was just, I don’t want to say it didn’t hurt, but it didn’t hurt like I thought it would, and I do attribute that to the water,” Marsolo said.

Abby Kinne is a senior midwife and executive director for the Center for Humane Options In Childbirth Experiences, or CHOICE, in Clintonville. Kinne said CHOICE started offering water births about 15 years ago and more women request them every year.

“They weren’t tremendously popular at that time. Now I would say at least half of our clients, probably approaching 75 percent of our clients, want water birth or at least to labor in water,” Kinne said.

Kinne said before water births many women chose to labor in the shower or bath tub because of the comforting nature of warm water. The theory is that the warm water helps sooth painful contractions. And another benefit, Kinne said, is fewer women need episiotomies.

CHOICE midwife Tanya Rable-Collins, who has also had a water birth, said the warm water also helps the body release its own pain killers or endorphins.

“Besides the comfort of water, it helps your body to help yourself better,” Rable-Collins said.

But there is a downside to the warm water – it can slow down or even stop the labor. So it’s suggested women not get into the birthing tub until their contractions are strong enough that labor is not likely to stop.

CHOICE rents birthing tubs. The tubs have a water bed heater that keeps the water warm once it’s filled. But Rable-Collins said some women use their own bath tubs, Jacuzzis or even kiddie pools, although a kiddie pool will not keep the water warm for long. And in that case Rable-Collins says

“So we actually boil water for a birth. It’s kind of funny.”

Rable-Collins said they are often asked whether the water and the tub are sanitary.

“Your own germs that you’re already immune to in your own home are not a big deal. Nonetheless, scrubbing out a tub’s a good idea. Of course, the tubs that we rent have individual plastic liners so that everybody gets a new liner. As far as just regular water we have, this isn’t India we have nicely clean chlorinated water, so it’s not a problem,” she said.

Marsolo said besides the obvious question her family and friends asked, why are you having a water birth, she says the next most popular question was what about the mess? Marsolo and her husband set up their birthing tub in their home office.

“It was a plastic tarp on the floor, if you will, and you put the tub up together on top of it. It’s kind of like in panels and it comes out round. And you put a plastic liner inside it. I mean, I might have gotten a couple of footprints of water on the tub when I got out with the baby, but we had little puppy pads, like with the blue bottom, puppy pads lined up to a chair in the corner where I sat for the next hour after he was born,” she said.

Marsolo said there was no mess. She said the only negative aspect to the birthing tub is what she calls her “bad” water heater. She said it took them three hours to fill the large tub.

“It could only run for probably 15 minutes at a time. We had the hose hooked up to the bathroom sink fill, fill, fill. And I was laboring in the bedroom. I would hear it every now and then; he’d turn the water back on, Please can I get in yet? Can I get in yet?’ No, no, no,” Marsolo said. She said next time they’ll start filling the tub a lot sooner.

All of this may sound nice, but the medical community is not as thrilled about women having babies at home. Doctors say there are many unforeseen emergencies that can happen in the blink of an eye.

Dr. Melissa Boyles is an OB/GYN at Riverside Methodist Hospital. She said as an OB/GYN she’s not necessarily trained to do home births.

“The biggest difficulty with home births is knowing that a seemingly low-risk patient can turn into an incredibly life-threatening situation so fast, that if you’re at home you may not have the ways or means to deal with the situation,” She said.

Boyles said many unforeseen crises happen at birth or just after. A couple of those can be placental abruption, which can cause massive bleeding, and shoulder dystocia, when the baby’s head is delivered but the shoulders get stuck and may need emergency Caesarean section if traditional maneuvers do not free the baby.

Jane O’Shaughnessy is president of the CHOICE board of trustees and has delivered all four of her children at home. The birth of her fourth child posed some problems including shoulder dystocia. But O’Shaughnessy said after several maneuvers conducted by the midwives, including having her lie on her side and then up on all fours, she finally gave birth to her 11-and-a-half pound baby girl. She admits, though, it was terrifying, but is adamant things would not have turned out as well if she had gone to the hospital.

“I would have gotten that epidural, I would have been in the hospital room, and when she got stuck they would not have been able to maneuver me because I would have been numb from the waist down,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Dr. Boyles said problems like shoulder dystocia are rare. And said at home births are not totally out of the question.

“I definitely think that in a patient perhaps who has had a normal vaginal birth before and has proven that she can deliver a baby, you know, easily and a-traumatically with her first baby or whatever the case may be I think that many times second or third babies can be delivered safely at home,” Boyles said.

CHOICE midwives contend at home births can be just as safe if not safer than hospital births. And they are very picky about whom they chose as a client. Women with a heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes, severe asthma or seizures are not considered good candidates for a home birth.

And when it comes to emergencies Rable-Collins says they don’t take any chances.

“If we see signs that a baby isn’t happy, a labor, (the baby) doesn’t seem to be tolerating labor well, we transfer before there’s a problem,” Rable-Collins said.

CHOICE’s Abby Kinne says about 17 percent of its moms transfer to the hospital. She said many of those are first time moms without an emergency.

“The mom says, I’ve had it. I’ve had enough. I want to go to the hospital. I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore,” Kinne said.

Marsolo, Rable-Collins and O’Shaughnessy said they would not have had their babies any other way than in their own home. And perhaps Marsolo summed it up best as to why.

“It was my body, my baby and I had faith that both knew what to do,” Marsolo said.

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