Feel in Control of Your Labor, in Water
You set up the candles, grab a book or (and!) a glass of wine, splash some bath salts or essential oils into the water, turn off the lights and turn on some relaxing tunes. One foot at a time, you step in and slowly lower yourself into the hot steamy water. Aaaaaahh! Your feel your muscles relax and the tension in your body melts away. There’s nothing quite like a hot bath to help you unwind at the end of a long hard day.
It only makes sense that women in labor enjoy the use of water for relaxation too. The ‘birth tub’ is often referred to as ‘natures epidural’ because of the calming effects it has on laboring mothers. Whether you’re planning to have a natural childbirth, going with the flow, or know you’ll want to utilize pharmaceutical pain relief, laboring in the water can provide an excellent source of comfort. One study showed that “At 15 min bathers’ anxiety and pain scores were decreased compared to nonbathers. At 60 min bathers’ pain scores were decreased compared to nonbathers.”1
I have personally seen the tranquilizing effects the water has had on my clients. If a birth tub or shower is part of their pain management preferences, I suggest changing it up and laboring in the water when the intensity of contractions become difficult to manage. Often mothers are worried about utilizing the tub too early and slowing labor down, as someone experienced in normal labor cues, my suggestions are always timely and based on those cues. It always puts a smile on my face when I see and hear my clients find comfort in the water.
While in the tub, it’s understandable when partners to feel like the water alone is doing the job of comforting their birthing companion, but it’s important to continue to support the mother. I take the time to share with the partner ways to physically and/or emotionally support the mother, this can be as simple as running water over her back or abdomen, gentle massage or applying counter pressure.
There are some downsides to laboring in the tub. It can be challenging for mothers to feel grounded in the tub, (duh! she’s floating in water) which can create an obstacle since she’s able to relax easily between contractions, but may need to feel firmly planted during contractions. This is an easy fix if the tub has a rail to hold on to, if not I pull out my rebozo (a shawl like garment) and use it to help my clint find a conformable grounded position, which can help moms feel in control.
Most birth facilities in the metro Detroit area do not permit tub births, and it can be difficult for mothers to physically and mentally remove themselves from the comfortable environment the tub or shower provides. I help moment by moment with the transition out of the tub by encouraging the birth partner to be present emotionally while I provide physical comfort measures, or vice versa. It is essential to provide both physical and emotional comfort to the Mother as this is generally the time of transition.
There are many ways to utilize water for comfort and relaxation in labor, whether it be in the shower or tub, before an epidural is placed or for a natural birth. Doulas are equipped with the information and experience to help our clients take advantage of water relaxation at just the right time and in any compatible situation.