While a birthing pool during the early stages of labour may offer some advantages, women should not deliver their baby in the water, new guidelines advise.
Serious health problems
Birthing pools can be found in hospitals, birthing centres or at home. A woman in labour lies in a tub of warm water to help ease delivery.
"Immersion in water during the first stage of labour may offer some benefits: It may shorten labour and is associated with a decreased use of epidurals [injecting anaesthesia into the spine]," said Dr Joseph Wax. He chaired the committee that developed the recommendations for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG).
"However, it is important to differentiate between labouring in water and delivering in water," Wax said in an ACOG news release. "There is no evidence to support delivering a baby in water has benefits to the baby."
In fact, according to the guidelines, delivering a baby in the water may lead to serious health problems. They include: increased risk of mother and infant infections; difficulty in the regulation of the baby's body temperature; increased chance of umbilical cord damage; respiratory distress resulting from the baby inhaling tub water; and potential for asphyxia (lack of oxygen) and seizures.
Hospitals and birthing centres that offer water immersion for women in the first stage of labour need to follow certain guidelines to protect the health and safety of the mother and baby, ACOG said.
Those measures include: rigorous processes for candidate selection; maintaining and cleaning tubs and immersion pools; following infection control procedures; monitoring pregnant women at appropriate intervals while immersed; and moving women out of the tubs if there are any concerns about the mother or baby.
The recommendations are published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynaecology.