Friday, September 11, 2015

Questioning Water Birth -- My Most Unpopular Post Ever

It's been months since I've published anything here. I've written plenty, just not published them. At 44, I've finally learned when to keep my mouth shut. The birth community has really changed in the last couple of years, too, so there's that. I'm not overly excited about arguing with other birth workers when good will not come of it. Negativity breeds negativity and I really don't want to be a part of it. How about an actual blog post about birth, not business or the birth community?! Let's do it!

There is something that has weighed on my mind since the viewing of Microbirth back in February. I spoke up at the discussion afterwards about several thoughts I had during the movie, but they were not well received by the majority of the room, well, except for the longest working midwife in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Helen Jolly, who wholeheartedly agreed with me.

If you haven't seen the movie, here's a sneak peak:

I've hesitated to talk about the thoughts I had as I watched this movie because they won't be popular in the natural birth world. I own a company, Birth Boot Camp, that promotes natural birth and midwifery care, and the last thing I want to do is make people upset. The purpose of this post is a discussion. I'm not saying I'm right whatsoever, but I do want to bring up some points that I feel might be ignored or overlooked in the natural birth community. People are free to make their own decisions, as always.

A fascinating statement was made in Microbirth that a baby passes through over 400 beneficial bacteria in the vagina when they are born. They did a great job of addressing the complications that cesarean birth may be causing for these babies who are not receiving these bacteria. They proposed swabbing the vagina and rubbing it all over the the baby's face and in its mouth, etc. after it is born. If you are anything like me, you find this awkward to do after the birth. I'm curious how often this will actually be done. I have yet to hear of it.

As I'm watching this movie, and getting all this information about beneficial bacteria in the vagina, and then witnessing water birth after water birth, I can't help but think about the bacteria being washed off the babies immediately after the birth. When I mentioned this after the screening, one woman immediately started talking about how much she loved her water birth. That's not the issue! There are chemicals in the water and some babies are spending a lot of time in the water after the birth. Moms, or midwives, will keep washing water over the babies to keep them warm or wash off "goo" and inadvertantly, the beneficial bacteria. Even if they are taken immediately out of the water, doesn't it make sense the water likely washed some away?

What if this is part of the problem? What if we are doing damage - or at least not helping -  the baby to receive the benefits of vaginal birth because s/he is born in water? What if?

The mom is also submerged and anything that came off the baby that would have been on her, is also washed off. I wrote a post several years ago called The Sense of Smell Connects Babies and Mothers. When a baby is born in water, they do not have these same benefits of smell. The smells of amniotic fluid and "goo" are good for mom and baby to keep for a while! And while I'm not writing an entire post about it, I'll just add that mom wearing a bunch of essential oils when her baby is born may also be a distraction in this important smelling and bonding process.

As with so many of the things we do during labor and birth, I feel an important question to ask is, is this part of the natural process? Are we altering how God intended birth to go? Are babies intended to be born into water? I don't know. I had a water birth over 14 years ago, before it was trendy or popular. In fact, I'd never known anyone to have one before. Ironically - or maybe not - that child is my only one who has asthma and skin issues. I'm sure it's a coincidence, but what if it's not? Asthma was one of the main issues addressed in the movie.

I'm just putting this out there to think about. I could be totally wrong, but I think it's irresponsible to not at least explore the possibility of the harm water birth might be doing to our babies. We are so quick to "judge" cesareans and blame them for so many health problems, but perhaps we are doing damage by doing something so "natural."

Again, people love their water births. I don't want to take that away from anyone and I'm certainly not anti-water birth. I think it's super important that it is an option for women. I've said for years that water is a "midwife's epidural" and I believe that. Labor feels different in the water. It does good things for a laboring woman, but I am having serious questions about the actual births taking place in the water.

Since we are here, talking about water... Let's just touch on herbal baths. It's been explained to me that it is beneficial for the mom's perineum. OK. But does it have to be done so soon after the birth, with the baby submerged in the water again? It just seems like this is a photo opportunity and people like it, but again, is it possibly doing harm? Just putting it out there.

Bottom line - are we doing things because they are trendy, and are they really benefitting moms and babies?