While the concept of water birth seems to be gaining more and more popularity in North America, it isn’t yet being embraced by the majority of moms in other parts of the world. In Adelaide, South Australia, only 1.7 percent of babies were born via water birth in 2015, despite the fact that water birth facilities are available in three of the city’s main maternity hospitals.
This doesn’t mean that a water birth isn’t on the table. In fact, a recent survey of Australian midwives found that 95 percent had suggested the idea of water births to their clients as an alternative to a traditional hospital birth. Despite this, only one-third of women reported being interested.
One of the main reasons is because many obstetricians – as well as soon-to-be mothers themselves – have numerous concerns about water births. And although South Australia Heath’s water birth policy states that water births can be supported as long as a list of important criteria are met, some obstetricians still refuse. According to Ted Weaver, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland and former president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, safety concerns include difficulty estimating blood loss, a risk of collapse, infant water inhalation and hemorrhage.
While concerns about safety are certainly part of the reason why water birth rates are so low in Australia, an absence of guidelines and practitioners also contribute to low numbers. According to Dr. Megan Cooper, study lead, midwife and lecturer at the University of South Australia, the option of a water birth simply isn’t made available to women.
“It’s not offered on a mainstream basis,” she said. “So women are actually opting to go out into the homebirth sector or to privately practising midwives to actually access the option, because they can’t find it in a hospital.”
Despite many remaining cautious and opting for a hospital birth, some women have a clear preference. Melissa Dudek, a mother-of-two who lives just north of Adelaide, has experienced both a traditional and water birth. Her first child was a hospital delivery, where she claims that numerous interventions and a failed epidural lead to an unpleasant experience and painful recovery.
When it came time to give birth to her second child, she decided on a water birth.
“It was far more positive, relaxing, less painful and my labour progressed a lot quicker in the water,” she said. “There was no need for any medical intervention or pain relief and I was able to move around and find a more comfortable position.”
Despite existing reservations, water births have recently been found to be a lot safer for healthy women with low risk of complications than previously thought. A study out of the UK found that there is sufficient evidence that giving birth in water is safe for moms and babies, with the added benefit of reducing the need for an epidural.