Curious About Water Birth? A Midwife Discusses Birthing Options

December 22, 2022

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Sarit Naomi Shatken-Stern, CNM Sarit Naomi Shatken-Stern, CNM View Profile
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What to Expect With a Water Birth

Sarit Shatken-Stern, Certified Nurse Midwife, Baystate Medical Practices Pioneer discusses water birth and options for a healthy labor.


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Of all the decisions parents-to-be have to make before their little one arrives, among the most important is where they want to deliver their baby and what type of birthing experience they want to have.

According to Sarit Shatken-Stern, a Certified Nurse Midwife at Pioneer Women’s Health in Greenfield, MA, “I encourage every birthing individual and their partner to explore all the options for birth and to find a practice that respects and supports their choice. As you prepare for this momentous event, you want to be sure that your preferences are the priority rather than what’s easiest or even ‘standard’ for a given provider or practice.”

Among the perhaps lesser-known birth options—but one gaining in popularity—available to families in the Baystate region is water birth.

What is a water birth?

Shatken-Stern who gave birth to her two children via water birth explains: “A water birth means at least part of your labor, delivery, or both happen while you’re in a pool filled with warm water. Some people labor in a tub and birth out of the tub while others may deliver in the tub. As with all deliveries, there are no hard and fast rules about how a water birth will go. It’s all very spontaneous and should be in response to the needs of the birthing individual’s wishes and the health of that individual and the baby.”

What are the benefits of water birth?

Water birth is a popular option for birthing individuals who wish to deliver without the use of, or a decreased use of, pain-relieving measures including epidurals and opioids.

“Anyone who has ever sat in a hot tub or jacuzzi can appreciate the relaxing effects of being submerged in warm water,” says Shatken-Stern. “The water in a birthing tub is kept as close to body temperature as possible, helping to relax and loosen muscles which, in turn, reduces pain.”

In addition, being in the water makes it easier to move and reposition as desired. This can help speed labor and, for some individuals, make contractions more effective as well as help move the baby down the pelvis. “Simply being buoyant and unencumbered can be very comforting to the birthing individual and increase their feeling of control over how the birth is progressing.”

Shatken-Stern also notes that water births have been shown to decrease the risk of severe perineal tearing and the need for an episiotomy.

An added benefit of water birth for the baby is the gentle transition it provides to life outside the womb. “While the baby is only submerged in the water for a few seconds,” says Shatken-Stern, “the transition from womb to the world is presumed to be a bit gentler when experienced in water.”

Who can—and can’t—have a water birth

While how you give birth is a personal choice, water birth may not be right for everybody.

Shatken-Stern says, “Water birth is a viable option for most healthy, full-term pregnancies including those where the birthing individual needs IV fluids, the baby needs continuous monitoring, the baby is being induced and even for many pregnancies considered ‘high risk’.”

However, she notes, there are certain complications that may rule out water birth as an option. These include:

  • You're expecting more than one baby.
  • You have mobility challenges.
  • Your blood pressure becomes dangerously elevated, your heart rate changes or you lose consciousness during labor.
  • Your baby shows signs of distress.
  • You are not a candidate for vaginal birth due to the baby being breech or you have placenta previa.
  • You have an infectious disease such as HIV, Hepatitits or COVID.

Beyond specific health reasons, Shatken-Stern adds that there are other reasons water birth may not be a good option. “There’s a pretty high degree of ‘ick’ factor associated with water birth,” she says. “If someone, or their partner, is squeamish or faints at the sight of blood, it’s probably not a great choice.”

Is Water Birth Right for You?

When it comes to water births planned at home or at hospital, knowledge is power. Shatken-Stern encourages expectant couples to learn all they can about the option and to have clear and candid conversations with their provider, midwife, or doula about their preference.

Is water birth covered by medical insurance?

“Water birth, which is covered by insurance the same way traditional birthing options* are,” says Shatken-Stern, “are a great way to bring a bit more of control and natural relief to the birthing process. If your provider isn’t familiar with or comfortable with the option, reach out to Pioneer Women’s Health at Baystate Franklin Medical Center to schedule a consult.”

*NOTE: The cost of a birth tub rental for an in-home option may be additional. Check with your insurance company.

Learn more about having your baby at The Birthplace at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

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