You can use water in labor, even if you don't plan on a having a water birth!
Water is one of my favorite pain management tools in labor. Whether you give birth at home or in the hospital, at some point my clients end up in the tub or in the shower.
Here’s why hydrotherapy can be a wonderful option in labor:
You can relax!
Even for those who aren’t pregnant, a nice, warm bath after a long day of work can make you feel more relaxed and calm. Immersion in water can lessen anxiety and promote relaxation. These same benefits apply when you are in labor.
The calming effects of water can actually help with labor progression. When you are feeling relaxed and calm, your body releases endorphins, which promote the production of another hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin plays an important role in labor, stimulating contractions. (Known as the "love hormone," oxytocin is also involved in attachment and breastfeeding).
When the oxytocin is flowing, your labor can progress. Conversely, when you are feeling stressed and anxious, adrenaline is produced, which can interfere with oxytocin production. So taking a warm bath, combined with other relaxation tools such as music, meditation, dim lighting, massage, and self-hypnosis, can help your labor keep a nice, active pattern.
Note: In early labor, taking a bath can slow down contractions. This is just fine-- early labor should be a time of rest, since it can take hours or even days to turn into active labor. If active labor is imminent, taking a bath won’t stop it!
It provides pain relief.
Water is sometimes referred to as a “liquid epidural.” While water doesn’t take away all sense of pain (although some clients report that at times it comes pretty close), it definitely helps to make the pain of labor more manageable.
The website Evidence Based Birth gives a review of the evidence behind water immersion as pain relief in labor. In a meta-analysis of several studies, it was reported that people who labored in water were less likely to use epidurals or spinal anesthesia for pain relief.
Submerging your body in water isn’t always necessary. Standing in the shower, with the hot water pointed at the part of your body where you are feeling the most pain or discomfort, is also very effective for pain relief.
You can move.
While submerged in water, it may be easier to move your body into positions that may be more difficult or uncomfortable "on land," like hands and knees, or in a squat. Being in water can help take pressure off of areas of your body that ache. You may feel more buoyant and lighter, contributing to feelings of relaxation.
If you are laboring at home, you can use your own bathtub or shower. (In early labor, I encourage my clients to take a bath and then try to sleep for a while, to reserve their energy for active labor.)
At the birth center, there are tubs and sometimes showers for your use. And more and more hospitals are offering tubs to labor in (although most hospitals still don’t allow pushing or giving birth in the water).
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus offer labor tubs, either in each room or in a single-use shared space on the labor and floor. Some tubs sport jacuzzi-style vents for additional comfort.
For low-risk pregnancies, you can labor in the tub at just about any time, including after your bag of waters has broken, or if you have been induced. When laboring in the hospital tub, the nurses can monitor you intermittently without you having to get out of the water; if you consent to cervical exams, these can often be done in the water as well. (Note that with narcotic pain medications and epidurals, you won’t be allowed to labor in the tub for safety reasons.)
You can try it again.
At some point, if my clients aren’t planning a water birth, they decide to get out of the tub, either to push out their baby or to continue laboring on land. At this point, I can help them maneuver out of the water and wrap them up in a nice, warm towel so we can try some other comfort measures.
Sometimes, my clients decide to try the tub or shower again, and they easily can.
With some pain medications, you can have only a certain number of doses, and your mobility may be decreased for a while. With hydrotherapy, you can return to the tub or shower at just about any time during labor.
If you are worried about an accidental water birth, your doula and care providers can often get a sense of how close you may be to pushing based on your behavior and sensations you are reporting. We can recommend getting out of the tub to give you enough time to get to the place where you intend to birth your baby.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Do you have questions about using water in your upcoming birth?
Whether you grew up here or are a recent transplant, if you are expecting a baby in the Treasure Valley, you've picked a great place to procreate. Here's a list of reasons why:
1. Midwives Abound
Choosing a midwife as the primary care provider in pregnancy is a choice more and more people are making for their low-risk pregnancies. Midwives view birth as a normal life event, and tend to minimize interventions. Their care is more holistic, incorporating factors like nutrition and the social and psychological health of their patients alongside physical care. Midwives attend home births, births at freestanding birth centers, and in some hospitals.
In Idaho, all midwives are licensed by the state. They can be Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM), registered nurses with graduate education in midwifery, or Certified Professional Midwives (CPM), who are trained through a formal education program or through an apprenticeship. CPM's must pass a national certification exam. In the Treasure Valley, both types of midwives can be found practicing in a variety of venues. There are independent, traveling midwives who primarily focus on home births. There are those who see patients at birth centers, and either attend births there or at patients' homes. And within both major hospitals systems in the Valley, St. Luke's and St. Alphonsus, there are teams of Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM's) who work alongside obstetricians in the labor and delivery wards.
Midwifery and/or home birth is illegal in several states. In other states, poorly-defined or restrictive laws discourage midwives from practicing for fear of prosecution. Even in states where midwifery is legal and regulated, midwives are few in number, or not an option in local hospitals. The abundance of midwives in the Treasure Valley, and the variety of venues and patients they service, is impressive for a population of just under 700,000.
2. A Choice in Birth Centers
The Treasure Valley has four freestanding birth centers. FOUR! To put this number into perspective, the South Bay region of Los Angeles, which has roughly the same population as the Treasure Valley, has ZERO freestanding birth centers. You would have to travel in LA traffic for at least 30 minutes (double that in rush hour traffic) to get to the nearest birth center.
Not in the Treasure Valley! From Nampa to Meridian to Boise, you can opt for that middle ground between home birth and hospital birth and have plenty of options to choose from:
3. The Valley's Hospitals are Growing and Innovating
Maternity services are offered at several locations in the Valley. Family-centered care and patient choice is a focus at the major hospitals.
St. Luke's offers maternity care in Downtown Boise, Meridian, and Nampa. The Nampa hospital is brand new, and offers specially designed family suites, with large labor tubs, refrigerators, and plenty of room for family. Especially innovative is the fact that several of these suites are NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) rooms, the first of their kind in the Northwest.
St. Alphonsus offers maternity care in Boise and Nampa. The Boise campus boasts a level III NICU, the highest level of neonatal care in Idaho. Its Nampa hospital is also brand new, growing to meet the demands of the Valley's expanding population.
In Caldwell, West Valley Medical Center offers family suites with king sized beds. There is no minimum age for visitors, so younger members of the family can get the opportunity to meet and bond with new babies before they get home. West Valley opened a brand new NICU last fall as well.
4. A Doula for Everyone
The community of doulas in the Valley is growing and thriving. As more people discover doulas, and the important role they play in supporting birth, there has been an increase in their demand. Different doulas service different segments of the population; depending on your specific needs, you can find a doula that aligns with your personality, values, and budget.
Doula associations and partnerships foster cooperation within the doula community, and strengthen and elevate the profession. I am a proud member of the following local doula organizations:
4. Finding your People
When illness reaches your family, whether you reach for the elderberry syrup or the Sudafed, there is a group for you. The Treasure Valley offers many different online forums and in-person meet-up groups to help you navigate the world of pregnancy and parenting in a way that speaks to you.
New to the area is Building Villages https://www.buildingvillages.org, an organization focused on early childhood development and parent support. Their pilot program for parents of newborns is launching next month. Meeting in Meridian or Boise, the Newborn Groups will meet for 10 weeks and will focus on the practicalities of raising a newborn and parent self-care, and will provide its participants with an opportunity to meet other new parents and build community. For more information, visit https://www.buildingvillages.org/newborn-groups/
5. Just Look Around You
In so many parts of the country, kids just don't play outside anymore. In the Treasure Valley, it's hard NOT to get outside. From the river, to the foothills, to the plentiful parks, this is an easy place to expose your baby to sunshine and fresh air. Getting out in nature is good for your own health and wellness, too.
Birth (and life) is better here!
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the greater Treasure Valley.
How can I help you have a better birth? Let's talk!
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.