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What is water birth? Everything you need to know

Does it feel like you’ve been making decisions about your pregnancy, labor, delivery, and your baby’s future almost daily for the past several months? That’s because you have! Deciding how you’re going to welcome your sweet bundle into the world is a big one – and a water birth might be an option you’ll decide is right for you and your baby.

Water birth is the process of laboring and/or giving birth in a tub of warm water. As with most choices during your pregnancy, there are benefits and risks to consider with giving birth in water, also called hydrotherapy. 

The theory behind water birth is that your baby has already been in the amniotic fluid sac for nine months, so birthing in a similar environment is gentler for the baby and less stressful for the mother.

woman doing a water birth

Like all decisions during your pregnancy, you’ll want to talk to your healthcare provider about what is possible and safe for you and your baby. Women considering a water birth must meet certain health criteria. You might decide laboring or giving birth in water sounds great, or maybe it’s just not for you. Women who are considering a pain medication-free birth might be especially interested in water birth advantages and disadvantages.

For a long time, water births were only possible at home or at standalone birth centers. But modern hospital-based birth centers like The Mother Baby Center now offer water birth as one of several labor and delivery options. 

Learn more about the different delivery options we offer at The Mother Baby Center. 

What is water birth?

A water birth means at least part of your labor, delivery, or both happen while you’re in a deep birth pool filled with warm water. Some may ask, “Why do people have water births?” or “Is a water birth better?” Well, many women say the benefits of a water birth include a calmer, more relaxed environment with less pain and potential for vaginal tearing. The water birth process can take place in a hospital, birthing center, or at home and ideally under the care of a doctor or midwife.

In order to have a water birth, you must meet certain health criteria:

  • Full-term, low-risk pregnancy
  • Free of infection and other medical conditions
  • Pregnant with one baby (not twins)
  • No history of high blood pressure
  • No history of bleeding disorders
  • No complications during pregnancy or labor
  • Must meet pre-pregnancy BMI criteria

High-risk pregnancies might require fetal monitoring or other interventions during labor and delivery, so in these cases, your doctor or midwife will likely want you to stay out of the water for easier access to you and your baby.

Is a water birth the same as a natural birth?

The water birth process is popular among women looking for less interventions during labor and birth. A “natural childbirth” refers to a birth that lets the birth process run its course with minimal interventions. There is no such thing as an “unnatural birth,” however, and every woman’s experience is unique and special.

At The Mother Baby Center, women can choose The Natural Birth Experience, which supports a holistic birth experience and honors your body’s natural ability to give birth to your baby without medical interventions unless absolutely necessary. This includes prenatal education, patient-led interventions, and shared decision-making.

During The Natural Birth Experience, you might choose hydrotherapy, or water birth, because you feel more comfortable submerged in warm water. Research has found that when laboring women are buoyant in deep warm water, pain-inhibiting endorphins flood their brains and put them into an altered state of consciousness and relaxation.  

What happens during a water birth?

If you’re wondering how you have a water birth, it’s actually pretty much just like it sounds. A large, deep tub is filled with warm water, and you enter it when you’re ready. Some women choose to get into the tub as soon as labor starts, while others wait until they’re closer to delivering their baby. It’s a personal choice, and your healthcare providers will assist you when the time is right.

If your labor is progressing normally and you decide to remain in the tub for the delivery, here’s what happens when your baby arrives:

  • While a baby is developing in the uterus, they get the oxygen they need through the placenta and umbilical cord, not through their mouth and lungs. 
  • When a woman gives birth in water, the baby’s head is born into the water, which feels similar to the amniotic fluid the baby has been in. 
  • The baby doesn’t take a breath while their head is still under the water. 
  • When the baby’s head comes above the water, nerve receptors in their cheeks stimulate them to take their first breath and use their lungs to get oxygen.

How do you have a water birth?

A water birth can be a great option for labor and delivery, but only if the mother meets certain health criteria to ensure she and her baby are safe, including:

  • Full-term, low-risk pregnancy – Labor happens after 37 weeks, and you and your baby have been healthy throughout the pregnancy. 
  • Free of infection and other medical conditions – Women with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and prematurity should not give birth in water.
  • Pregnant with one baby (not twins, triplets, etc.) – Birthing multiples can sometimes require extra help or interventions from the health care provider, which could be complicated if you’re in a tub of water.
  • No history of high blood pressure – High blood pressure during pregnancy could result in less blood flow to the placenta, which can be harmful to your baby and needs careful monitoring.
  • No history of bleeding disorders – Serious bleeding problems during pregnancy will likely require a carefully planned labor and delivery.
  • No complications during pregnancy or labor – Includes spontaneous labor (not induced labor) after 37 weeks and you and your baby have been healthy throughout the pregnancy.
  • Must meet pre-pregnancy BMI criteria 

It’s critical to have conversations with your health care provider about water birth benefits and risks during your pregnancy so you’re prepared when it’s time to deliver your baby.

Can you have a water birth at a hospital?

Water births in hospitals are increasingly common. Choosing a water birth in a hospital setting allows a pregnant woman to enjoy the benefits of being in a deep tub of warm water during their labor and delivery – while also having access to state-of-the-art medical care if needed. 

The water birth facilities at The Mother Baby Center provide a private and quiet environment for the mother and any other people she chooses to be with her during her labor and delivery. 

Your doctor or midwife, along with the labor and delivery nurses, will be there to provide expert support. 

Benefits of a water birth for a birthing person

Why do people give birth in water? There are many benefits of a water birth for the mother, including less pain and higher satisfaction with the birth experience overall. If you enjoy relaxing in warm baths to soothe your aches and reduce your stress, you might want to consider giving birth in water.  

A few of the benefits of choosing a hospital water birth include:

  • Relaxation – The warm water can be soothing, which can help the body produce more pain-inhibiting hormones and less stress-inducing hormones.
  • Ease of movement – Some women find that laboring in water helps them feel lighter, find more comfortable positions, and move about more freely during labor.
  • Improved circulation – This can help mom have more efficient contractions and deliver more oxygen to baby.
  • Reduced risk of tearing due to a more relaxed body.
  • An environment that helps foster an increased sense of privacy and focus. 



Warm water is comforting and soothing, so it’s easy to imagine why water birth could offer relaxation benefits. Laboring in a tub of warm water can help lower the mother’s blood pressure, making for a calmer experience overall. 

It’s important to note: labor pains are still present during the water birth process, but the environment is likely more relaxing and pleasurable. Some women find that being able to feel the process of birth with a manageable level of pain makes them feel more connected to the birth of their baby. 

Ease of movement

The buoyancy of water lessens the mother’s body weight and allows for freer movement and positioning. Many women say this is one of the main benefits of a water birth. By moving around in the water to find new positions, some women find they experience contractions more smoothly and calmly.

Improved circulation

Relaxing in a tub of warm water during the water birth process can trigger the release of endorphins in the mother, which can improve blood flow to the uterine muscles and help manage labor pains. The buoyancy from the water improves blood circulation, which reduces pain and provides more important oxygen for your baby. 

Reduced risk of tearing

Another one of the pros of a water birth for women who labor in water is they’re less likely to experience a severe tear or need an episiotomy (a surgical cut). The thinking is that the perineum becomes more relaxed by sitting in the warm tub of water, so it’s more elastic when the baby is delivered.

Are you interested in a natural birth experience? Learn more about the natural birth experience we offer at our Saint Paul location. 

Benefits of a water birth for baby

Another reason why water birth is chosen by some women is because of the potential benefits for their baby. The stress of birth is reduced in a warm tub of water because the environment is similar to being in the mother’s uterus. Many women say giving birth in water gives them calmness knowing their baby is arriving in this familiar way. 

Eases the stress of birth

Many women who choose a hospital water birth are doing so for the relaxing, calm, and private environment it provides. They want this environment for themselves while they are laboring, and they also want their baby to arrive in a calm space that is provided by the warm tub of water. 

Provides a familiar environment

A baby born into water is entering an environment very much like the one they just left. The amniotic fluid in the uterus has protected your baby for the past nine months. 

When the baby’s head is born into the water, it feels similar to the amniotic fluid. The baby doesn’t take a breath while their head is still under the water. Nerve receptors in the baby’s cheeks are stimulated when they emerge from the water and feel the air, causing them to take their first breath.

Water birth risks

There are a few disadvantages of water birthing, even in hospitals. You’re doing the right thing now by educating yourself about the pros and cons, but remember to also discuss your questions and concerns about giving birth in water with your healthcare provider before your delivery day.

Here are some potential problems that could happen during a water birth:

  • Infection for you or your baby – Blood and other fluids are a natural part of labor and delivery, so they will be in the water. If your baby is exposed to bacteria because they open their eyes or mouth underwater (or if you do), an increased risk of infection could occur. 
  • Pain management options are more limited – An epidural and certain other pain relief medications aren’t options during a water birth. 
  • Medical intervention could take longer – If you or your baby have a medical emergency, it could take longer to get you out of the tub for interventions.
  • Overheating or dehydration – If the water is too hot, overheating can become a risk for you and your baby. Make sure the temperature of the water is carefully monitored, and you’re drinking fluids as you’re able.
  • The baby breathes too early – Rarely, water aspiration happens during a water birth, but it’s possible. Your healthcare providers are trained to scoop the baby out of the water as soon as they’re delivered. 
  • The umbilical cord could break before your baby comes out of the water – This is also a very rare occurrence, but it’s a serious event if it happens.

At The Mother Baby Center, we treat our patients with care and respect. Find a provider at one of our locations in the Twin Cities Metro today. 

Explore Delivery Options at The Mother Baby Center

Choosing to give birth in water can provide you with the kind of calm, medication-free, self-directed birth experience you’re seeking. Or maybe you’d like to use medication and have more help, but you like the idea of laboring in a tub of warm water until it’s time to deliver your baby. Both options are great! 

The Natural Birth Experience at The Mother Baby Center provides a holistic childbirth experience that often includes a hospital water birth as a safe way to welcome your baby into the world. There are several other ways to deliver your baby at The Mother Baby Center, too. It’s important to plan ahead for the type of birth experience you’re seeking, so please reach out and let us know how we can support you and your baby on your big day!