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"Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn't more complicated than that. It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it."

- Sylvia Boorstein

WATERBIRTH- GENTLE BIRTHING FOR THE NEW GENERATION
If we take a look at how babies are delivered in most hospitals today, we find a lot of technological dependency, excessive drug use and rising cesarean rate. The need of the hour is to educate medical professionals and the public on the benefits of family-centered, natural childbirth, midwifery as the model for maternity care, and the use of warm-water immersion during labor and birth.

Miracles happen when warm water is used to ease labor and assist with birth. The process of waterbirth helps us helps us realize the truth that women can give birth without intervention and that babies can be born without assistance. After providers and nurses witness the power of birthing women, they begin to depend less on the medical interventions and more on the woman's innate ability to give birth. A profound, but subtle change takes place when that happens.

Water is an amazing tool to assist with normalizing birthing practices as well as the birth process itself. Here are some facts about waterbirthing:

What is Waterbirth?
The act of giving birth in water is so incredibly simple. A mother submerges herself in warm, body temperature water during her labor. If she feels like giving birth in that warm buoyant state, there is no need to ask her to leave the water.

The baby has grown in a fluid environment for the past 9 months. Babies adjust very well to being born in a birth pool.


Waterbirth is miraculous

Why Waterbirth?
Most people find great comfort and repose with water. Perhaps because we begin our lives surrounded in liquid in the womb, this basic familiarity stays with us throughout our lives.

Human beings are comprised primarily of water, and many special characteristics we have link us to aquatic mammals, perhaps carrying the memory of a time when the human species had an "aquatic interlude." A three-day old fetus is 97 percent water, and at eight months the fetus is 81 percent water. By the time a human has grown to adulthood, the adult body is still 50 to 70 percent water, depending on the amount of fatty tissue.

Human beings' natural alliance with water is best witnessed in human babies who can swim naturally and easily long before they learn to sit up or crawl. During their first year of life, babies will calmly and happily paddle underwater, gazing around with eyes wide open. When they need to breathe, they naturally paddle toward the surface of the water before taking a breath. Babies instinctively know not to breathe while their heads are still submerged underwater. They wait until they reach the surface of the water before breathing. It seems to be only later that humans lose these instincts and become more prone to drowning.

For thousands of years women have been using water to ease labor and facilitate birth. Wherever there has been even slightly warm water, there have been women bathing in it, using it ritually, and finding great comfort in it, especially in labor.

Soaking in a tub of water to ease labor sounds inviting to most women. If the water is where a woman wants to be, and there are no complications, then in the water is where she will feel the most comfortable. When it is time to birth the baby, there is no reason to ask the mother to get out of the water.

When a woman in labor relaxes in a warm tub, free from gravity's pull on her body, and with sensory stimulation reduced, her body is less likely to secrete stress-related hormones. This allows her body to produce the pain inhibitors 'endorphins' that complement labor. Noradrenaline and catecholamines, the hormones that are released during stress, actually raise the blood pressure and can inhibit or slow labor.

How long is baby in the water after the birth?
Normally, practitioners usually bring the baby out of the water within the first ten seconds after birth. There is no physiological reason to leave the baby under the water for any length of time. There are several water birth videos that depict leaving the baby under the water for several moments after birth and the babies are just fine. The safe approach is to remove the baby, without hurrying, and gently place it into its mother's arms.

The first and foremost question in everyone’s mind is: How does the baby breathe during a waterbirth?
There are several factors that prevent a baby from inhaling water at the time of birth. A detailed explanation of the factors is beyond the scope of this article. All of the factors combine to prevent a newborn that is born into water from taking a breath until he is lifted up into the air.

So, what does happen to initiate the breath in the newborn? As soon as the newborn senses a change in the environment from the water into the air, there is a complex chain of chemical, hormonal and physical responses, all resulting in the baby breathing.

The use of Dolphins to assist in waterbirth:
The use of Dolphins to assist in Waterbirth is becoming more popular. Here is a small note on ‘Dolphin Birthing in Russia’.
Russian midwife Igor Charkovsky is known for his unique water birthing method. Charkovsky helps pregnant women give birth in the Black Sea aided by dolphins. He believes that dolphins have an affinity with the baby in the womb and are automatically attracted to pregnant women. They sense when they are about to give birth and gather around and provide both the mother and child with a sense of protection and safety.

Sometimes when a baby is born the dolphins nuzzle it to the surface to help it breathe.

Charkovsky first experimented with dolphins and children in 1979 at a dolphin research station. He discovered that the mammals, sometimes up to 9ft in length, were exceptionally gentle with the children, whose ages ranged from eight days to eight years, allowing them to ride on their backs.

What are the advantages of waterbirth as compared to the way birthing is normally done in hospitals today?

The Top ten benefits of water during labour & birth are

  • promotes labour
  • encourages circulation
  • increases focus
  • relieves pain
  • promotes elasticity of the perineum
  • enhances a newborn’s birthing experience
  • allows freedom of movement
  • provides a safe and hygienic alternative
  • can reduce the need for medical drugs and intervention
  • creates a positive birthing experience

Promotes labour
Resting in a warm tub of water facilitates the progression of labour.

Free from gravity's pull and with sensory stimulation reduced, the body is less likely to secrete the stress hormones noradreneline and catecholamines that raise the blood pressure and slow or inhibit labour. This allows the body to produce the pain-inhibiting endorphins that compliment labour. Furthermore, the increased relaxation encourages the uterus to contract more effectively.

Many pregnant women report an "energy surge" that moves through them as soon as they step into water. Sometimes the level of pain reduction is so great that women surrender themselves to the water, full dilation occurs rapidly and the baby slips out. This is quite safe as a healthy newborn will breathe only when lifted clear of the water. Oxygen continues to be supplied through the umbilical cord for a few minutes after birth. A midwife will often rest a finger on the cord so that she can feel the blood pulsating through it.

Encourages circulation
Studies show that being immersed in warm water increases venous pressure encouraging blood to return to the heart more efficiently. It enhances cardiac action and slows the pulse rate. Women with hypertension (high blood pressure) often experience a significant drop in blood pressure within 10 to 15 minutes after entering a warm bath.

Increases focus
A woman’s perception of pain is greatly influenced by anxiety. Being more relaxed physically, a woman labouring is able to relax mentally, enhancing the ability to focus.

Many women acknowledge that once they get into the water concentration is strengthened. Doctors and midwives who attend waterbirths find that the mere sight and sound of water pouring into the tub helps some women release whatever inhibitions were slowing the birth, at times so quickly that the birth occurs even before the pool is filled. Often women get in the pool with intention of using it for labour only and the birth occurs before they can get out of the pool.

Relieves Pain
The unique sensation of water counteracts the force of gravity and relieves internal pressure on the lower back and buttocks. The analgesic effect of warm water helps some women reach a state of consciousness in which their fear and resistance are diminished or removed completely.

Promotes elasticity of the perineum
Another benefit of waterbirth is the elasticity that water imparts to the tissues of the perineum, reducing the incidents and severity of tearing and the need for painful stitches or episiotomy. Surgeon and childbirth expert Michel Odent reported that in the 100 waterbirths he had attended, there were no episiotomies performed and only 29 cases of tearing, all of which were minor surface tears.

Enhances a newborn's birthing experience
It is known that drugs or synthetic hormones used during birth can affect the baby. If the mother's delivery is easy and smooth, so too is the child's birth. The baby spends less time in the cramped birth canal and is free from the fear, frustration or other painful emotions that a long and difficult labour might arouse in the mother. It is thought that water provides a gentle and less traumatic transition for a newborn entering this world.

Water recreates a womb-like environment and offers comfort after the stress of birth, allowing bodily systems time to organise. During birth babies often open their eyes. As a baby is born into water, its limbs are able to unfold with ease and lights and sounds are softer when perceived from under water. Even the touch of its mother's skin against its own tender skin is softened by the presence of water. The innate alliance human beings have with water is first apparent in babies who move toward the surface of the water before taking a breath. This mechanism remains in tact throughout the first year of life.

Allows freedom of movement
Water allows a woman in labour to frequently change her position as she feels necessary. It is easy to move in water and a woman often switches positions without a thought, allowing the baby’s rotation and descent of the head. A birthing pool offers the added advantage of being able to use the side of the pool as support. A supported squatting position encourages the knees to spread wide so that the pelvis opens fully in preparation for delivery.

Provides a safe & hygienic alternative
Waterbirthing is considered completely safe and hygienic and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Can Reduce the need for medical drugs & intervention
Most women use birthing pools as a preferred method of pain control and have no need for analgesic medication. The analgesic effects of water negate the need for intervention with many women reporting only small, surface tears.

Creates a positive birthing experience
Overall, mothers who have given birth in water often feel exhilarated, ecstatic and euphoric. This is a positive result. Furthermore, the ease of a mother who labours and gives birth in water translates to the child.

It is believed that a mother and a baby share the emotional experiences of birth due to hormones secreted and absorbed by the baby. A woman who delivered a baby by means of waterbirth recalls her feelings in her story: “I was so ecstatic. I felt so proud. I kept saying, I did it! I did it!”

More importantly, in the normal practices followed, without our knowledge the baby is being subjected to severe traumatic conditions. These continue to affect him throughout his life and are referred to a “birthing process blocks”. Notable among these are:

Temperature trauma: The use of air-conditioned environment causes the newborn to find itself suddenly in a cold environment and the first impression he has from this is that the world is a cold and inhospitable place. In the case of waterbirth, the temperature the baby encounters is almost equal to the temperature that it experienced in the mother’s womb.

Separation from the mother: Newborns are usually taken away to a different room immediately after birth. Being separated from the mother at this stage is very traumatic to the baby. In the waterbirthing process, the newborn is kept with the mother for long enough for it to feel comfortable and to allow a really strong bond to develop between the two.

Use of blinding Lights: The lights in the delivery rooms are often too bright for the tender eyes of the newborn baby. This really hurts the eyes of the baby and makes him feel unwelcome. Compare this with waterbirthing, where dim lighting is used and the baby is underwater till the birth process is complete. The water further reduces the impact of the light on the baby’s eyes.

Practices like hitting the baby on the buttocks: This makes the baby feel unwanted and it begins its life with an impression that people are not to be trusted.

Waterbirth is therefore a wonderful way to experience the birthing process- both for the baby and for the mother. It is gaining popularity worldwide and till date there are over one hundred thousand documented cases of waterbirth in the United States alone. It is strongly recommended that new parents-to-be choose this alternative.

Acknowledgements:
Gentle Birth Choices - Inner Traditions, 1994 © Barbara Harper
“Waterbirth Basics From Newborn Breathing to Hospital Protocols” Printed in Midwifery Today: Issue 54, Summer 2000 © Barbara Harper 2000.
“Nothing in this book is true but that’s exactly the way things are” by Bob Frissel
“Rebirthing Manual” by Leonard Orr
Website of “Waterbirth International”
Website of “ninemonths” - www.ninemonths.com.au

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