Oregon State University Research Finds Water Births Are Just as Safe As Traditional Births

A new study led by researchers at Oregon State University finds that births that occur in the water may be safer than other births.

Water birth is offered in some hospitals in the U.S. but is much rarer here than in most developed countries around the world. Only 1.5 percent of people in the U.S. give birth outside of a hospital, and about half of these elect to have a water birth. In order to achieve a large sample size researchers included a large number of births that happened outside of a hospital. The study compared outcomes of 35,060 pregnancies from all 50 states: 17,530 water births and 17,530 non-water births.

The results showed that water births were associated with lower risks for several maternal outcomes, including 64 fewer hemorrhages per 10,000 births, and 28 fewer hospitalizations in the first six weeks. The only maternal outcome where water births resulted in a slightly elevated risk was postpartum uterine infection. Water births were associated with an additional six postpartum uterine infections per 10,000 water births compared with non-water births. However, there was no increase in risk of being hospitalized for infection.

“People like to labor in the water because it helps with pain management. The issue now is that a few hospitals offer water immersion for labor, but then once you start pushing to deliver the baby, you have to get out of the tub,” said Marit Bovbjerg, lead author on the paper and an assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. “This study is trying to address whether you really do have to get out, or whether babies can be born underwater. What we found here is that water birth can be totally safe in these home and birth center settings. So surely you can also pull this off in a hospital, where many more resources are available.”

The full study, “Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes Following Waterbirth: A Cohort Study of 17,530 Waterbirths and 17,530 Propensity Score-Matched Land Births,” was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It may be accessed here.

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