When water helps labour go swimmingly

Andrew Dunn
The Daily Telegraph, 17 January, 1989

Andrew Dunn relates how well his nervous wife took to birth in a pool

Soon after my wife Romy first discovered she was pregnant in April last year, we watched one of Sue Cooke’s Having a Baby programmes. Romy was thoroughly scared, and said, quite seriously, she would prefer a Caesarean section under general anaesthetic.

When she discovered by chance that a water birth was possible at Whipps Cross Hospital in north-east London, it seemed a very attractive idea. She is a real water fiend, never happier than when she is in the bath, and has always relied on the therapeutic power of warm water to relieve pain.

We heard that a local natural health-care clinic, the Jeyrani Health Centre, had a pool, which was kept at the hospital.

The director, Dr Gowri Motha, was offering her services free to the first 50 or so women who wanted to use it – partly so that midwives could gain experience with it and partly to aid research. The only charge was £25 for her own pool lining.

Just one month before the birth was due, Romy went to see Dr Motha, a delightful female obstetrician. She now felt relief, excitement and a sense of eagerness. “I felt I could manage in water,” she said later, “I was frightened of labour, but I knew water. I felt I could handle it.”

Romy was a fortnight overdue and the hospital doctor decided the baby had to be induced. The bland delivery room contained no bed, just an equipment cabinet and a couple of chairs.

When Dr Motha arrived she turned the lights out leaving a little daylight filtering through the blind. As she applied the hormone induction gel, I started to bolt the circular sections of the pool together. Then we fitted the plastic lining sheet and began to fill it from the sink taps. Induced labour is notoriously quicker and more painful than natural labour and Romy was no exception, Dr Motha gave her a shot of a morphine derivative to ease the pain. Romy swore (literally) that it did not, and at one point simply announced that she was going home.

After a while the midwife and I got her up and walking. Round and round the pool we went, Romy hanging round my neck for each contraction, more regular now, more spaced apart. After another hour Dr Motha pronounced Romy sufficiently advanced to climb into the pool. As she sank into the knee-deep water she exclaimed: “This is wonderful!”

Apart from the sheet relaxing effect of the warm water, it meant that she had complete freedom of movement. She could squat more easily and the water supported her. She could move unaided from a crouching forward position leaning back on the edge of the pool with no fear of a tumble. And it certainly accelerated the labour.

Dr Motha was out of the room when Romy thought she could feel the head coming through. The midwife, more used to delivering babies on beds, suggested Romy left the pool for the actual birth. Romy’s reaction was to retreat to the centre of the pool out of our reach. The baby was born within the hour. First the head appeared underwater, the baby still “breathing” through its umbilical cord as it was in the womb, and minutes later the body followed – four hours after induction Dr Motha lifted the baby slowly and gently through the water and into Romy’s arms. It was a girl, and we have called her Mhairi.

Afterwards Romy was in no doubt that the pool had helped. “Though I’d been told it would be bad, the labour was much worse that I expected.”

“All my antenatal training just went out of the window. The pool made the labour bearable, without it I’d have insisted on an epidural.”

I would definitely use it again – in fact I doubt if I would happily go into labour again without knowing it was available. I just can’t imagine myself propped up on a bed pushing. I remember the overwhelming relief when I got into the water.”

Romy is one of only three or four mothers to have given birth in the pool, though more have used it at some stage of labour. Dr Motha is hoping for more to try it – she wants the midwives to learn to use it without her, so that it is an option on the labour ward.

Dr Motha is convinced that labour is painful because women are conditioned all their lives to expect it and she believes it need not be so.

“The baby being born into water is the most sensible way a woman could deliver. His first experience of the outside world is in a medium in which he is capable of moving and being and can help himself move by swimming movements and the first impression of the world in those few brief seconds after birth is, I think, very important.”

Efforts are being made to make underwater births, pioneered by Michel Odent in France, more widely available – particularly in NHS hospitals. Until recently the technique has been available rarely, in private clinics or at home.

We can only guess at baby Mhairi’s thoughts. But she just adores bath time.

The Daily Telegraph, 17 January 1989

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