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Water birth

5-minute read

Key facts

  • In a water birth, your baby is born submerged (under) water.
  • Water immersion during labour and birth can help with pain relief and may reduce your chance of needing an epidural.
  • Water births are considered very safe if you have had a low-risk pregnancy, you and your baby are healthy and your labour is progressing normally.
  • Many, but not all, hospitals offer water birth facilities. If you’re interested in a water birth, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor or midwife in advance.

Why choose a water birth?

It’s up to you, in consultation with your midwife or doctor, to plan where and how you would like to give birth. It’s also important to remember that things don’t always go to plan.

In a water birth, you give birth sitting in a pool, so your baby is born submerged in water.

There are some advantages to a water birth. Labouring in water can be relaxing and may provide effective pain relief. You are also less likely to need an epidural for pain management if you have a water birth.

If I have a waterbirth, can my baby drown?

If your labour and birth are uncomplicated and you receive the right support from your midwife, there’s no risk of your baby breathing before they are brought up out of the water. This is because a newborn baby’s body has several protective features that prevent them from breathing in while they are underwater.

Who can safely have a water birth?

Most doctors and midwives agree that water births are safe if:

  • you’ve had a low-risk pregnancy and are healthy
  • you’ve reached 37 weeks gestation
  • you’re having only one baby (not twins or other multiples) who is positioned head down
  • you’re not excessively overweight — this is so the hospital staff can easily move you out of the water in an emergency
  • your labour is progressing normally

Most hospitals also have a set of conditions that you must agree to, if you choose water immersion during your labour. These include agreeing to leave the water in certain situations, for example, if there are worrying changes in your baby’s heart rate. You can ask your doctor or midwife for more information about your hospital or birthing centre’s policies.

Are water births safe?

There is no evidence that either you or your baby are at extra risk from water immersion (labouring in warm water for pain relief) or water birth, although further research is needed on water birth.

The potential risks include:

  • your baby might get an infection
  • your baby might swallow water
  • you or your baby might get too hot

Most hospitals have policies to help manage these potential risks.

If your health team assesses your pregnancy as high risk, they might not offer you the option of a water birth.

Can I have a water birth in hospital?

While most hospitals and birthing centres offer water immersion for pain relief during labour, they don’t all provide water birth facilities. It’s a good idea to check in advance that water birth is offered where you plan to give birth.

Hospitals that offer water births are equipped to deal with any problems that might arise during the birth. If there is a problem, your doctor or midwife needs to be able to remove you from the bath or pool safely and quickly.

If you are considering using water during labour and/or birth, discuss this with your midwife or doctor ahead of time.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

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