How can water help relieve the pain of labor?
The expert answers
Although it has surely been used since the beginning of time by laboring women, we are just recently rediscovering water as a very effective pain relief tool in labor. I personally lament the fact that I gave birth to my own babies between these two ages of enlightenment. As a midwife, I have seen over and over again the wonderful effect that water has on the course of labor.
Before we started using tubs and doing underwater births, we
discovered if we encouraged mothers to get into the shower
or bathtub during labor she usually handled the discomfort of her
labor more easily and her labor seemed to move along at a quicker
pace. It didn't take long for us to "send them to the showers." Very often, the next thing we would hear was "I have to push"!
Labor can be difficult and painful for many women, but the good news is that our bodies do not leave us bereft. Our bodies offer a reward for the exertion of labor -- narcotic-like painkilling chemicals called endorphins, or bets-endorphins, that circulate in the blood stream. These natural opiates are also released during other forms of physical exertion such as running, cycling and sexual intercourse. Not only are these chemicals released by the contractions of labor, but according to research with weightlifters, the grimacing and grunting that many women do during birth release endorphins as well. The drugs commonly used to aid in childbirth actually interfere with your body's ability to release these chemicals.
Most women relax as soon as they enter warm water. It lowers adrenaline and encourages endorphins. Also, positive sensations like warmth and stroking touch, sensations that give comfort, travel to the brain faster than negative sensations like the discomfort of contractions. Therefore the warmth from the water and its relaxing benefits override the negative effects of any of the pain and fear of labor.
Sometimes pain is caused through fear which creates tension and blocks endorphins. The use of water helps to break this fear-tension-pain cycle. The water supports the weight of the baby and eases the many aches and pains of labor and late pregnancy. The support of the water allows the mother to adopt any position which she finds comfortable and enables her to change positions easily. Many midwives use the tub in prodromal labor because often a mother can sleep in the tub when she cannot get rest any other way. Immersing yourself in deep warm water is the best!
shown it to be as effective at pain relief as an epidural, with
no side effects! Our apprentice affectionately referred to her
birth tub her wetpidural. Any use of warm water will help, even
a normal bathtub, a shower or warm wet washcloths applied to the
belly or back. I have know of many hospital births to go very
well when the mom spends long periods of time in the shower.