Water Birth Risks May Outweigh Benefits, Doctors Say

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A joint opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatricians concludes that giving birth under water has no proven benefit to a mother or her baby — and may even be risky, according to a CBS News reportRisks cited in the report include infections, difficulty monitoring the baby's temperature, and respiratory distress if the infant inhales water.

While the doctors stipulate that sitting in a tub of warm water can relieve a mom's pain during the early stages of labor, there has been little study done on underwater delivery, and they suggest that these types of births be performed only in controlled research studies. It has become increasingly common for hospitals to offer birthing pools and tubs as a way to help pregnant women relax during their labor.

Dr. Jeffrey Ecker of Harvard University, a co-author of the study who has cared for numerous women who were comforted by water immersion during their labor, says "Laboring in water is not the same as delivering under water." ACOG committee member Dr. Aaron Caughey of Oregon Health and Science University agrees, and adds "We want people to do more research."

Midwives at Dr. Caughey's hospital perform several dozen underwater deliveries annually and are collecting data on how the mothers and babies fare. The hospital tells patients that there is not a lot of high-quality evidence showing a benefit to underwater birthing, and pregnant women at Oregon Health and Science University's hospital are required to take a special class and sign a consent form in order to have a water birth.

In their report, the physicians recommend that hospitals and birthing centers choose only low-risk candidates for immersion during labor, keep the tubs scrupulously clean, monitor the women appropriately, and be able to move them out of the tub quickly if a problem occurs.