What's New in Waterbirth

With more mothers-to-be discovering its soothing approach and many benefits, Waterbirthing is one of today’s most fashionable birthing methods.

Imagine coming home after a trying day, climbing into a tub and letting the hot water melt away your stress and pain. Apply this idea to labor and delivery and you have waterbirth.

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"The more relaxed one can be in labor, the less pain there is going to be,” says Susanna Napierala, a licensed midwife and author of Waterbirth: A Midwife’s Perspective.

Women from native cultures knew this. They labored and delivered in warm tidal pools, hot springs and other water sources centuries before “civilized” societies discovered waterbirth. Waterbirths came to the United States 22 years ago, but took place mostly in home births and birthing centers.

"It’s becoming more and more popular," Napierala says. "Women are realizing it is an alternative to drugs during labor."

Waterbirth's Growing Popularity

Barbara Harper, RN, founder and director of Waterbirth International Resource and Referral Service, a project of the nonprofit Global Maternal/Child Health Association, says her organization fields 50,000 e-mail inquiries and 700 phone calls a month. "Our prime directive is to make waterbirth available as an option for all women in all birth settings by 2015."

The organization is well on its way to that goal: Nearly 250 American hospitals and 70 percent of all birth centers now support waterbirth, compared to two hospitals and a few birth centers in 1991.

The Women’s Health and Birth Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., has seen its business grow by 20 percent in 2002, in large part to parents interested in waterbirth. This year, 60 percent of the center’s patients gave birth in the water, up from 20 percent a decade ago.

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