Warm water immersion in labour

When it comes time to deliver your baby, you may choose warm water immersion in labour as a way to help promote and facilitate a normal birth, while also providing natural pain relief during established labour.

Provided your pregnancy has been uncomplicated, you have a BMI of 35 or under, and you have progressed to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, this may be an option for you.

Why choose warm water immersion?

Warm water immersion can be an effective pain relief during labour as it can diminish stress hormones (catecholamines) and reduce pain by increasing the body’s production of pain relievers (endorphins).

The water also provides support and buoyancy that enables labouring women to relax and take advantage of the weightless feeling it provides; easing muscular tension and helping you relax between contractions.

When should I get into the bath?

We recommend you wait until you are in established labour, which means that you’re having regular contractions (about every five minutes) and they are lasting about one minute, before you get into the warm water. Sometimes, if you are in very early labour, the water can be so relaxing that labour slows down.

For women in established labour, warm water has been found to promote relaxation which may enhance your oxytocin levels and help labour progress. It is a good idea to talk with your doctor or midwife when you are in labour about the appropriate time to consider getting into the water.

When should I get out of the bath?

While most normal labour progresses without problems, birth can be unpredictable for both mother and baby.

Your midwife or doctor may ask you to leave the bath because they have identified a problem which they need to investigate with you out of the bath. You will be encouraged to leave the bath every two hours for a short time to walk around and use the bathroom.

Water temperature

Your midwife or doctor will explain to you the importance of the water temperature being regulated at about 37 °C while you are in the bath. This is so you don’t become too cold or overheat during labour and helps encourage relaxation and comfort.

It is also very important to drink plenty of water while you are in the bath to remain well hydrated.

Restrictions to warm water immersion in labour

You may be unable to choose warm water immersion in labour if it has been identified as a risk to either you or your baby. It may not be safe for you to consider this option if:

  • you require continuous monitoring of your baby (CTG)
  • you have a temperature above 37.5 °C
  • you have an infection at the time of your labour
  • your pregnancy is under 37 weeks
  • you have had any significant bleeding in your current pregnancy
  • your labour is not progressing normally
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you have diabetes
  • you have epilepsy
  • you have had an epidural analgesia
  • you have a history of previous shoulder dystocia.

If you would like more information about warm water immersion or think you would like to try this option for pain relief and relaxation in labour, it is important to discuss this with your health professional during pregnancy.

Discussing your choices provides the opportunity for your health professional to go though the benefits with you and help you decide if this is an option you would like to consider for labour.

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