Water Birth - From a Midwife's Point of View (An Interview with Kristen Downer CPM, LDM)

Water birth delivery method is clamoring up a notch in the birthing field and is getting quite popular especially for those who decide to give birth at home.

So what is water birth? Luckily, I got the chance to have a quick chat with home-birth midwife Kristen Downer CPM, LDM who gave her insight about it - good and bad. Kristen also confirmed that majority of the births she does takes place in water.

In her years of practice, Kristen admitted that she does have mixed feelings about this method of birthing. Mixed in the sense that on the one hand, it is an excellent pain management tool, it can help encourage "real" contractions or it can make "false" labor stop. It can be just what a woman needs during transition when she feels like she just can't do it any more. It makes for a very gentle transition earthside for baby. On the other hand, some women have a very difficult time feeling "grounded" in the water, they can't seem to find their footing and they just need to firmly plant themselves on the earth in order to push their babies out.

In her observation, she thinks that waterbirth can and does interrupt some of the physiological steps mothers and babies take during and directly after a birth - For instance a mother normally needs a "pause" after she has pushed out her baby, if left alone, a mother will birth her baby, then take a minute to realize what just happened, then she slowly starts to look for the creature that lays between her legs, and she slowly discovers the baby, first by gentle touch, then she will eventually pick up the baby and embrace it, and then she will start to explore the baby. This exploration is part of the natural bonding of baby and mother, in the water, that series of events are disrupted, or impossible. Also, a lot of the birth is washed off of a baby in the water. The smells that a baby has help the mother bond and produce milk faster. The same goes for the mothers smell for the baby. Also, some of the microbiome is washed off or diluted in the water, not giving the baby the full amount of exposure to valuable organisms that can boost immunities.

Kristen believes that the first hour after a birth, is the "golden hour" and should only be interrupted if baby or mom need extra support, but in the water, the temperature starts to get cold and the mother tends to want to get out of the tub (she's over it), and then comes the awkward walk from the tub to her bed, it normally requires a couple of people to help and a complete disruption of the "golden hour". One more thing, as a midwife, if a baby is birthed compromised and needs resuscitation, its vital for the baby to stay connected to it's placenta to get essential oxygen, stem cells, and iron. However, in order to be effective, the baby needs to be lower than the placenta, which is impossible during a water birth.

Kristen admits that waterbirth is a wonderful labor tool and despite some of her objections, many of her clients give birth in the water without a hitch. She will, of course, still continue to express her concerns and would never insist that a mother stop what she's doing in labor or change what she is doing to cater to her. Indeed, some of her favorite births have been in the water!

So for all moms out there who are still undecided whether or not to try water birthing, I hope this article helps.

Kristen Downer CPM, LDM lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find her at www.homebirthoregon.com.


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