How Safe is a Water Birth, Really?

Water births are gaining popularity—but are they as safe as people think they are? A new study weighs in.

Baby just born in water Anna Jurkovska/Shutterstock
Giving birth in water is nothing unheard of, with plenty of new mothers opting to have their babies while semi-submerged in a tub. But if the idea of having your baby in water is a little worrisome, you might wonder: Is it actually as safe as some people say it is?

Moms who choose water births over traditional hospital births tend to speak passionately about their benefits—but recent research doesn't find any significant advantages to the delivery method. Researchers looked at 29 previously published studies and didn't find any real difference in infant mortality rates, frequency of complications or risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit between water births and other methods of delivery. 

More: 7 Tips for Having a Natural Childbirth

Does this research indicate that water births are superior to traditional hospital births? No. But does it suggest that they're unsafe? Again, no.

"The notion that it is safe to have the baby under water has not been shown as safe or unsafe in our review," senior study author Alastair Sutcliffe, Ph.D., said. "Whilst it is a good plan to try labor in water, my advice is to wait until there is more convincing evidence of safety before having the actual delivery in water."

There are some attractive factors to water births. For one thing, laboring in a pool of water can help ease pain and even speed up the early stages of labor—but once it comes to push, there's no real evidence to suggest any benefits. In fact, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists cautions against underwater births, as the group believes they put babies at risk for infections, breathing difficulties and even drowning.

But the researchers associated with this particular study maintain that there are still question marks when it comes to determining the benefits and safety of water births.

"There is no evidence that delivering underwater has any benefits and the authors of this study fail to acknowledge a benefit other than to mention that whales and dolphins give birth under water," Amos Grunebaum, M.D., director of obstetrics at New York Weill Cornell Medicine, told Fox News. "Just because something is popular does not mean it's safe or has any benefits. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest harm like infections, seizures and pneumonia in the [infant]."