What is a Waterbirth? And, the History Behind it.

Bean Family Wellness offers support to families planning a waterbirth in Winnipeg, Manitoba by offering professional grade birth pool rentals in Winnipeg and Rural Manitoba (including Steinbach and other local communities), as well as Canada-wide sales for the Birth Pool in a Box and other waterbirth accessories - everything you need to having a wonderful waterbirth experience!

What is a Waterbirth?

A waterbirth is a birth in which a mother typically spends the second stage of labour, the pushing phase, while immersed in water. During this phase the mother pushes with each wave and eventually births her baby directly into the water. 

However, water does not have to be used ONLY during the second stage of labour. Women can enjoy water to help cope with the sensations of labour once labour becomes active. Women often enjoy using water for this purpose and then exit the water while pushing. A woman's comfort with using water during second stage, her partner's feelings, as well as her care providers comfort level and experience can play a role in the decision of how to use water during labour and birth. 

Although not typically termed as a waterbirth, using a shower during labour is another popular way to use water for a natural birth experience. 


The History Behind Waterbirth

Women from many different parts of the world have been giving birth in the water for centuries, but it has been only recently (as late at the 1980s across the United States) that this option has become popular for North American women (Harper, 2005). 

According to Barbara Harper (author of Gentle Birth Choices) (2005), the first water birth to be documented happened in 1803 in France to help a mother cope after a long forty-eight hour labour. Documents state that the warm water of the birth helped the mother's labour to progress, so fast in fact that she was unable to leave the water before her baby immersed (Embry as cited in Harper, 2005). 

In the 1960s and thereafter, Igor Charcovsky, a self-taught scientist and male midwife in the Soviet Union (Russia), took particular interest in waterbirth and began studying it (originally by looking at how animals laboured and birthed in water and the reaction of infants in water) (Harper, 2005; Midwifery Today, 2011). Charcovsky also studied waterbirthing with dolphins present and is known to be father to the Russian Method of birthing in water (Midwifery Today, 2011). 

French Physician, Michel Odent, became on of the first to publicly discuss and allow birthing or labouring in the water. He believed that it was important for women to birth in the way their body's instincts told them too (a belief that I share), whether or not those instincts told them to labour or birth in water, or elsewhere. He left waterbirth open as an option. Instead of having women plan for a waterbirth, he encouraged them to follow their bodies cues (Harper, 2005). This is an important point that I think is still very valid today. Many women want a waterbirth and plan for one; in the case of a home birth, planning is a necessary step to ensure the proper supplies and set up. But, it is important to realize that the body wants what it wants in labour and you may not feel like labouring or birthing in water, even though it may have been your initial plan. It is important to go into labour with an open mind and follow your body's cues instead of forcing yourself to try and live out your dreams of a waterbirth. 

Water can be beneficial to newborns - Leboyer (author of Birth Without Violence - published in 1975) believed in the benefits of water for newborns. He believed that the typical births as they were in the 1970s was terribly traumatizing to a newborn baby. Part of this belief was that a baby being born from a warm fluid environment of a mother's uterus, to the cold bright hospital room was problematic (Antipuesto, 2010). 

Although Leboyer did not focus on birthing in the water, he did believe that immersing a newborn in a warm bath following birth was helpful. When combined with his rational and concerned for the typical hospital birth, the option of water birth makes sense as a more peaceful and calming approach to childbirth. I think that Leboyer's work can easily be incorporated into waterbirth when looking at how a baby reacts when being birthed into the water vs. on land (Harper, 2005). 

In 1988, Waterbirth International was created by Barbara Harper when she saw a need to provide women with accurate information on using water during labour and birth. Over 20 years later, Waterbirth International continues to be a great resource for women around the world who are interested in learning about waterbirth (Harper, 2005). 

1. Antipuesto, D. J. (2010) Leboyer childbirth method. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://nursingcrib.com/nursing-notes-reviewer/maternal-child-health/leboyer-childbirth-method/
2. Harper, B. (2005). Gentle birth choices. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont. 
3. Midwifery Today. (2011). Biographies. Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://midwiferytoday.com/bio/. 

This article is part of Waterbirth Series on the Bean Family Wellness Blog. Subscribe to our newsletter, or follow Bean Family Wellness on FacebookTwitter or Instagram for updates! 

Check out Part Two - Waterbirth Options: Deciding on Your Place of Birth

This article has been written this article for general interest only. I am not an expert in waterbirths nor am I a medical professional. If you are considering a waterbirth, please research this option thoroughly and discuss your plan to birth in water with your partner and your health care provider. This article is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. You should always forward medical questions on to a qualified health care professional. I have tried to ensure (to the best of my ability) that the information in this article is accurate. If any incorrect information does exist, it is purely accidental. I am not liable for any unintentional mistakes, use, or misuse of the information contained in this article.