Should Hospitals Ban Water Births?
Giving birth is an intensely private, emotional and life changing moment, and one that no two people will ever experience in exactly the same way. How and where we labor and deliver has been something that has evolved through the years, from home births to hospitals and in some cases back to home again. Yet the more we focus on creating the most positive birth experience we can, and the more options that are put on the table, the more pushback there appears to be from the medical establishment. The debate over every aspect of birth is reaching fever pitch, from assisted midwife birth to VBACs (vaginal births after a c-section) to home birth. Now, we can throw water birth into the mix.
Both doctors and midwives suggest laboring in a tub as a positive experience that can relax a mother on the verge of birth, reducing pain and allowing labor to progress. For many women, this has evolved into a practice of actually giving birth in a birthing tub, a large tub much like a mini-pool or kiddie pool in a home or hospital where the mother-to-be can complete her full labor and give birth.
However, the ability to do that in a hospital may be no more. Due to a joint statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) saying that they disapprove of the practice, deeming it potentially dangerous, hospitals are pulling back on their own participation in allowing water births on site.
Minnesota is just the latest to cut off that option for expecting mothers and, in their case, leaving many irate that their choices are being removed from them at the last moment. Allina’s birthing tub was a key feature of the hospital’s new birthing center, but now it’s being left empty. Last year the hospital system had almost 150 water births, but now they are being put on hold while they decide on whether the medical professional groups’ safety concerns are merited.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, this isn’t the first time ACOG has released warnings about water birth danger. A similar caution was put out in 2005, yet hospitals continued to add the practice to their birthing centers. There has been no change in evidence over the subsequent eight years, yet now the hospital system has decided to close the tubs just in case.
Although there are other hospitals still offering the choice, mothers who are about to give birth are scrambling, since many of them have midwives who are only certified to do births at Allina hospitals. Either way, these mothers will lose something in their birth plan: the person who will deliver the baby or the way in which that delivery will take place.
Even in areas where the tubs will be allowed, the choice is likely to leave some medical providers questioning the mothers-to-be who choose to take that option, especially if some tragedy does occur during birth. Author Avital Norman Nathman, an advocate for birthing rights, wrote about the issue last month when the new caution from the medical groups was announced. “The ACOG and AAP statement isn’t a ruling, but rather a suggestions [sic], yet it means providers will take it into consideration when deciding what to offer,” writes Norman Nathman. “It does mean that some places will stop offering water births. It also means that water birth is now added to the pantheon of decisions one can make during birth that will be heavily scrutinized and judged.”
Perhaps the most ironic part of the warning from ACOG and AAP is that by releasing their recommendation that water births not be allowed, which would stop hospitals from offering them, they will push those who truly want a water birth to consider a home birth versus hospital birth, something that they also believe increases risk for mother and child.
Regardless of recommendations, birthing is about learning the risks and dangers inherent in every option (yes, including doctor led hospital birthing, inductions and other labor and delivery options considered mainstream and standard), weighing them, and deciding what best fits your current situation and the experience you hope to have while giving birth. And, above all else, remembering that everyone should be working together to bring this new life into the world with the least amount of risk, but also the biggest amount of joy.
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