Water birth is today becoming more common and in greater demand, as the benefits to mother and child are tremendous - the mother is reportedly more relaxed, needs less pain control
and has an easier labour
. The baby is spared the shock of birth into a colder environment, is more alert and is less likely to cry. As the water is close to body temperature, transition from the womb to the outside world
is thus less traumatic.
The child may be born underwater, as she will continue to get oxygen via the placenta, and will not attempt the first breath until her face touches the surface of the water. (During the first year of life, babies calmly paddle underwater, swimming around freely, looking around - think of Nirvana's album Nevermind. They instinctively return to the surface to breathe - many people use this in support of water birthing.)
For the mother, the relaxation in water provides many benefits - the water supports and buoys her body and the warmth relaxes her, enabling her body to produce endorphins, (natural painkillers) and to reduce those hormones (noradreneline and catecholamine) which are released during stress. This allows an easier and frequently shorter labour and quicker recovery. Water birth also reduces tearing and the need for episiotomy and consequent stitching.
It is important that the midwife or other birth attendant are trained, alert and at hand for the mother and baby. As the newborn baby emerges into the water she is caught either by the mother or the birth attendant. Once born, the child is given freedom of movement, and will often open their eyes immediately after birth, and use their limbs with greater freedom than in 'conventional' birth.
The first record of underwater birth was in France in 1803, when a mother in labour was given opportunity to rest in a hot bath. During this period of relaxation, her baby was born in the tub.
Modern developments are largely based on the work of Igor Tjarkovsky, a Soviet researcher, which began in 1960. In 1977 French obstetrician Michel Odent allowed mothers to relax a pool of warm water, and also noted that this provided some pain relief. Many women elected to remain in this environment, and soon thousands of women had gained benefit from this birthing method.