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Hospital Birth: Can I Get a Bathtub With That? (Why, yes. Yes you may.)

As mainstream doctors increasingly take note of the growing demand for natural labor and delivery practices within hospital settings (home birth, an alternative ever growing numbers families are turning to, certainly has its perks, but isn’t for everyone), it’s exciting to see the ways in which they—and the hospitals in which their patients give birth – make natural birth options available to the families they serve.

Dr. Delisa Skeete Henry, for example, helped to create a water birth program at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – where her practice is based – last August. Her first water delivery was also the first ever at the hospital. Jennifer Goldman, the mom (now of three) giving birth, who is also a physician, had delivered via C-section with her first child; by the time she was ready for her third, she was also ready for her ideal birth experience; luckily, Skeete – with whom Goldman had become close over the duration of her pregnancy – was able to facilitate this right at her home-base hospital.

Water births are not new, but they usually take place either at home, or in alternative birthing centers, and with the assistance of midwives, rather than hospital OBs. And although the AAP has expressed concern over their safety due to an insufficient numbers of studies on the subject, some data supporting water birth as beneficial in relieving labor pain, as well as lessening labor time, does exist. It’s persuasive enough for some doctors – as was the case with Skeete Henry – and increasing numbers of hospitals, to incorporate water birth into their practices.

Skeete Henry’s experience now supports the data she found compelling enough to implement a water birth program in the first place: not only does water birth facilitate a faster, and less painful, labor, but moms come out of it with a “sense of accomplishment” and empowerment that, Skeete contends, gives them a positive start on the path of motherhood. Sheila Love, who works with Skeete, has observed (as paraphrased here) that “water delivery gives women the sense of control and higher level of intimacy during their childbirth experience that has been lost with modern medicine.”

As medical professionals within our modern hospital system acknowledge its shortcomings, and as home and natural birth advocates reintroduce what’s been ‘lost’ in the childbirth experience to a more options-savvy public, parents are being offered more choices that may better meet their specific needs within mainstream hospital settings. It’s unlikely everyone will ever be willing—and some people just aren’t medically able – to buck the system entirely and give birth at home; for those in this camp who also want a drug-free birth, or who want more control over their birth experience, water birth (and natural pain relief options) within a hospital marks a welcome shift from either/or choices to hybridized, have-your-cake-and-eat-it hospital birthing. Ultimately, this gives rise to more data, and influences changes in industry, and cultural, expectations and standards; I think it is likely that all hospitals will one day offer water births. Broward Health Coral Springs, in the same county as Broward Health Medical Center, has offered this option to laboring moms since 1998 (wow!), and hospitals across the country are beginning to jump on the waterbirth bandwagon. (I was hoping to share a national directory with you, but the one I was able to locate appears to be currently out of order. If you’re interested in having an in-hospital water birth, however, you could either inquire at your areas hospitals, or ask a local doula for recommendations. Here’s a doula-finding directory; there may also be a doula collective in your area worth Googling for.)

Everyone from doulas and midwives to the American Pregnancy Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human services agrees that water birth rates are rising (and have been for about three decades), but percentages taking place at home, versus in hospitals, are unclear (if you can point me to this data, please do). I’d be willing to bet, however, that some credit for the rising rates is due to hospitals incorporating water birth programs into their delivery options. By doing so, they’re making water birth available to a much broader population of laboring moms.

So I’m curious: would you choose to have a water birth in a hospital setting? Have you done this? Should all hospitals offer this option to laboring moms?

PS. Got Alt-Mama? (Stop by and say hi!)