Water Births on the increase Says Worcester Academic

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Women in labour are not being encouraged to give birth in water because midwives lack confidence and workloads are too high, according to research being carried out by a University of Worcester lecturer.

baby feetUnder government legislation, every woman in normal labour should have access to a birthing pool if she wishes. However, in reality, just over 1% of all births in England and Wales take place in water.

Kim Russell, a registered midwife and senior lecturer at the University of Worcester, said: “Water births are relatively new and many midwives just don’t have the skills or knowledge to feel confident in facilitating childbirth in water.”

“There are many benefits to water births,” she added. “A woman is far more likely to achieve a normal birth, with no intervention, in water. The water provides excellent pain relief and comfort.”

Mrs Russell said women in labour looked to their midwife for guidance and midwives should be offering the choice of a water birth, or at least the use of a pool for pain relief, upon admission to the labour ward.

Mrs Russell has been working with Worcestershire Acute NHS Hospitals Trust on her research, and in the past 18 months water births within the Trust have doubled.

“The maternity unit have been fantastic,” she said. “Managers recognised rates were low and therefore were keen to collaborate with the project and have introduced a number of actions since I started working with them.

“The maternity unit has introduced training for all midwives on water births and has purchased an additional two birthing pools. The choice of water for labour and birth is now discussed with all low risk women on admission to the labour ward.”

In 2009 the number of water births in Worcestershire doubled with many others using the birthing pools for pain relief during labour. However, Mrs Russell said there was still a long way to go, as the number of women accessing this type of care was still very small considering that more than 3,500 women give birth each year in the maternity unit. Future research will focus on ways of addressing the barriers to water birth practice. 

Mrs Russell has recently been awarded a research grant of £5,000 from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) (Ruth Davies bursary) which will be used to support completion of her PhD research.