Water births do not increase the risk of complications, according to a study | Birth

Giving birth in a water bath does not increase the risk of complications for the baby or its mother, according to a study.

Researchers from Cardiff University assessed 73,229 records of low-risk pregnancies involving a pool of water during childbirth across 26 NHS organizations in England and Wales between 2015 and 2022.

The analysis looked at the rate of severe tears experienced by women who gave birth, along with the number of babies who needed antibiotics or help breathing in the nursery and the number of babies who had died during childbirth.

The researchers concluded that the risks to babies and their mothers were not greater among water births compared to non-water births.

Water births account for around 9% of the almost 600,000 births recorded by the NHS each year. According to clinical guidelines, all pregnant women should be offered water birth as a birth option.

Julia Sanders, a professor of clinical midwifery at Cardiff University who led the research, said the research showed that water births were a safe alternative to out-of-water births. “In the UK, around 60,000 women a year use a birthing pool or bath to relieve pain during childbirth, but some midwives and doctors were concerned that water births could carry additional risks,” she said.

“There have been reports that babies could become seriously ill or even die after water birth, and that mothers were more likely to suffer severe tears or heavy blood loss. “We wanted to establish whether water births with NHS midwives are as safe as giving birth out of water for women and their babies at low risk of complications.”

Peter Brocklehurst, emeritus professor of women’s health at the Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit, said: “Given that 10% of women use water immersion to relieve pain during childbirth, the results of this study will have implications for thousands of women a year in the UK and many more around the world, where water immersion during childbirth is common practice.”

Professor Chris Gale, consultant neonatologist at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust in London, said: “Many paediatricians and neonatologists are concerned that water births may carry additional risks for babies, but the study found compelling evidence that for “For women with an uncomplicated pregnancy this is not the case.”

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