W is for Water

water dutchess doula westchester doulaHave you heard of hydrotherapy? It’s basically a fancy name for an aspect of alternative medicine involving the use of water for pain relief. In today’s blog we will only be discussing the use of water for pain relief during labor. The accompanying chart lays out the hydrotherapy options offered by each of the hospitals that our doulas serve.

Benefits of Laboring in (a Tub of) Water

When you’re in water, the property of buoyancy helps keep you afloat. This property helps to lessen your weight when in the tub and allows you to move around more easily. The warmth of the water (recommendation is 97°F) can help increase blood flow, bringing extra oxygen to your uterus. This, in turn, can make your contractions less painful! For many people, a reduction in pain equates to a decrease in blood pressure, in turn, resulting in a decrease of stress hormones. As an added benefit, “immersion in water during the first stage of labor may be associated with shorter labor and decreased use of spinal and epidural analgesia,” per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

However, it is important to note potential risks of laboring in the tub. The main risk is contaminants, namely fecal bacteria. This has the potential to cause an infection if you were to deliver in the water and your baby ingested water. Newborns do have the “dive” reflex and typically do not begin to breathe until their face has touched air, but the risk does still exist and should be noted. Though rare, another potential risk is the contraction of Legionnaire’s disease, which can be caused by improper or incomplete sanitary measures.

Benefits of Laboring in the Shower

As you saw in the chart above, not all hospitals in our area have tubs available for labor, but they have showers! While it is definitely not the same, using the shower for pain-relief during labor can also be beneficial. When laboring in the shower you can stand or sit (there is typically a shower chair already there or the nurse can bring you one), and often times they have detachable heads, so you can have your partner or doula aim the water right where you want it. Standing upright allows you to move and change position freely. Gravity is also working on your side to move your baby downward, which may help shorten your labor! Something notable is laboring upright “does not disrupt the normal physiologic processes” of labor like laying on your back does, meaning using the shower for pain relief during labor will not restrict baby’s movement into the birth canal and labor is less likely to stall.

When Can’t You Labor in the Water

Hydrotherapy during labor is contraindicated if you:

  • have an epidural (as you lose reliable control of the lower half of your body)
  • are receiving oral or IV pain medication. (These drugs effect everyone differently and, for safety purposes, you cannot be out of bed.)
  • require continuous fetal monitoring, as determined by your healthcare provider (as these monitors are not waterproof)


Resources and Additional Reading

X is for X Chromosome Inactivation
Y is for Yoga
Z is for ZZz

ACOG Committee Opinion
Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing
The Journal of Perinatal Education



This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not take the place of a healthcare provider, nor is it meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.



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