Fetal Development

Water Birth

by Staff

The French obstetrician Frederick Leboyer, born on November 1, 1918, is known best for his book, Birth Without Violence, which came out in 1975. The book spoke about making birth a more gentle experience, in particular, by easing the transition from womb to the world by immersing the newborn infant in a warm tub of water during the birth. This technique became known as the, “Leboyer bath.”

Warm Water

Proponents of the Leboyer method believe the method to be both safe and beneficial for mother and baby. They believe that the mother’s immersion in warm water during labor and delivery eases pain and creates a birth experience that is less traumatic for the infant. Critics of the Leboyer method believe that immersion in water adds an unnecessary risk for infants, including water inhalation and infection.

An earlier pioneer of water-birthing, Igor Charkovsky, performed intensive research in the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s on the subjects of the safety and beneficial aspects of water birth. Late in the same decade, Leboyer put these ideas into practice and began to immerse newborns in warm water. Fellow French obstetrician Michel Odent expanded on the theory and had laboring mothers immerse in warm tubs to provide relief and make for a more natural birthing experience.

Odent found that there were women who wouldn’t leave the warm tub when birth approached. This led Odent to research whether underwater birth might benefit, rather than harm a newborn infant. He also researched potential dangers for the baby born in this manner. By the end of the 1990’s many thousands of laboring women had delivered at Odent’s Pithiviers birthing center and the idea of giving birth underwater had spread to other parts of the Western Hemisphere.

Home Births

In the United States, couples who wanted to try water-birthing were forced to do so in their own homes. But the method soon spread to hospitals and birth centers. In the UK today, over three quarters of the National Health Service hospitals provide this service for those laboring women who so desire to try this method.

Softening Effect

Childbirth causes trauma to both mother and infant. Proponents of the Leboyer method believe that a warm bath mimics the amniotic fluid that bathed the infant in utero, and that such immersion eases his transition from birth canal to world at large. Water also has a softening effect on harsh medical lighting, noises, and colors.

In 2000, a researcher named Harper found that water birth helps control maternal discomfort during labor and delivery. Water birth is one form of water therapy, or hydrotherapy, which has been proven as an effective type of pain management for many conditions, in particular for lower back pain; a common condition for laboring mothers.


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