Water can be a very useful and comforting natural pain-relief tool during the different stages of labor, and can be used whether or not you are planning a water birth. In a 2012 overview of Cochrane systematic reviews of pain management options for women in labor, researchers from the University of Liverpool and National Institute for Health Research found results that may suggest immersion in water provides improved labor pain management and increased satisfaction with childbirth experience, with few negative effects. Water can also act as a catalyst to speed up labor by relaxing your perineum, allowing for speedier dilation.
So what is the best way to use water during labor? Keep reading to learn your options for laboring with or in water.
Water birth. Some hospitals, most all birth centers, and home birth provide you with the option of a water birth. This is done in special portable tubs designed for water birth or in a standard bath tub. Water birth allows you to fully immerse in water, taking advantage of the weightlessness effect of immersion as well as the relaxing effects of warm water. When immersed in water during labor, be task a member of your birth team is periodically checking the water temperature to make sure that it is within the 95 -100 degrees Fahrenheit range. It is also important to keep your water bottle within reach to maintain hydrated. Most practitioners will advise a woman to remain out of the tub until she is dilated to 5 cm, which usually coincides with the point when her contractions pattern is consistent. Getting into the tub before that point could slow down your labor. But, every labor situation and woman are different and should be assessed individually. For more information on water birth, visit Waterbirth International.
Bath tub. Perhaps you're not planning a water birth. The bath tub, whether laboring at home or in the hospital, can still be an effective pain relief option. If you get into the tub during early labor, keep in mind that it can slow down your contractions. Sometimes, a good soak in the tub acts as a litmus test for "am I really in labor?" If your body isn't quite ready, your contractions may slow down or altogether stop. Later on in labor, spending time in the tub with the lights down low can provide peace, comfort, and relaxation through your contractions.
Shower. Have you ever taken a long, hot shower after a rough, hard day? How did it make you feel? The shower can have similar effects during labor. The water pressure and heat running over your body during labor can feel wonderful. Plus, standing in the shower allows you to both take advantage of gravity while getting relief from water. If your body is tired, you can also bring a chair in the shower to allow for more rest. (Stay safe and avoid slips by laying down a towel on the shower floor.) Many hospital shower heads are detachable, which would allow someone from your labor support team to aim the water jet in the area that feels best (many women appreciate lower back, some also like the water on their belly). Add to the calming atmosphere by turning off or down the bathroom lights -- set out candles (battery-operated if you are in the hospital) for a more relaxing environment. It may sound like a lot of effort, but it really does not take much time to prepare (that's what your labor support team is for!) and the payoff is huge.
Did you use water during your labor or birth? How did it affect your experience?