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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Water labour and birth

Te Whakawhānau i te Wai

Hot springs and warm baths have been used for many years to help with stress and muscle fatigue. Warm water immersion during labour is supported within all Canterbury DHB maternity units. Some women only use water to help cope with labour pain and some women progress to a water birth.

Benefits of water labour and birth

There are several benefits of using water during labour and birth. Water can reduce pain and make you more comfortable. If you get in the bath once you're 5 cm dilated or more, it can shorten your labour.

The natural buoyancy of the water helps you to move into different positions and improves your comfort during contractions. The water also helps to relieve stress and tension, increases relaxation and creates a calm, quiet place.

Research has shown that women labouring in water are less likely to need pain relief such as morphine or an epidural.

A wireless monitor can be used if there is a need for continuous monitoring of your baby’s heart rate (known as a CTG) during labour.

Risks of water labour and birth

Research reports that there is no increase in infection for mother or baby when using water for labour and birth. Research also shows that a baby born underwater doesn't breathe until they reach the surface.

Many women who need intravenous antibiotics in labour because of risk factors for infection can still use the pool in labour.

Some health issues may mean that labouring or birthing in water isn't appropriate for you or your baby. But in some cases, it may be appropriate to labour in water but get out for the birth. You need to discuss your specific circumstances and wishes with your LMC while you're pregnant.

Using the birthing pool

The pool water is kept at a comfortable temperature for you. If it feels too hot or too cool, please tell your LMC or hospital midwife so the water temperature can be adjusted. Your body temperature will be taken regularly when you're in the pool.

You can choose how long you stay in the pool, and you can get out at any time. There are some instances when your LMC will want to monitor you and your baby more closely and advise you to leave the pool.

If you choose to stay in the water for the birth, your midwife will encourage and support you. As your baby is born, you and your midwife will gently guide your baby to the surface.

Pools (large circular or triangular baths) are available in Christchurch Women’s Hospital, Rangiora, Lincoln, St George’s, Kaikōura, Darfield, and Ashburton. There are also pools available in the community for home birth. You can ask your midwife about these.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed February 2022.


Page reference: 549620

Review key: HIGIB-113323