An Australian study has looked at how midwives there perceive the value of waterbirth, and how well they are able to support it within their working environments.
The study outcome was very positive, with midwives reporting that both water labour and birth were very helpful to women, and they “documented benefits of reduced pain, maternal relaxation and a positive birth experience”.
Despite this, the midwives also reported, “…that policy/guideline documents limited their ability to facilitate water immersion and did not always to support women’s informed choice.” , a situation that we see so often over here in the UK. It is time to support women to access the many benefits to them and their baby that comes with immersion in water for labour and birth, and to treat each woman as an individual rather than as a “risk factor”.
The Australian study mentions that “negative attitudes” are a barrier to providing access to birth pools. Quite rightly, there would be an outcry if “negative attitudes” prevented women from being able to have an epidural, and yet the risks of an epidural are well documented, whereas labouring and birthing in a birth pool has an extremely small list of concerns. One is, of course, what to do if a woman collapses while she’s in the birth pool. Tried and tested management guidelines are well established for this situation, which itself is extremely rare, but there is a worrying trend for women with higher BMIs to be denied access to a pool because they might be harder to bring out if they are unconscious. Another is the challenge of judging blood loss, but this is a skill that midwives who support waterbirth quickly learn. In “Revisiting Waterbirth”, Dianne Garland – expert waterbirth midwife – gives a helpful explanation of how the water should look when blood loss during or after a waterbirth is within normal ranges although of course there are many other factors such as how the woman is looking and feeling.
In summary, it is great to see a study showing midwives who are so positive about waterbirth, and the study seems to show that this is representative of many midwives in Australia, as is the case in the UK. The barriers come from attitudes from medical colleagues who need to be made aware of the work already done to deal with the concerns that they may have.