LAURIUM - For the first nine months of our existence, we are floating in warm fluid, and some doctors and mothers-to-be think extending that experience for a few more seconds after birth is good for the baby.
Dr. Bonnie Hafeman of the Aspirus Keweenaw Laurium Wellness Clinic said the hospital began providing water births about three weeks ago and she has overseen two births so far, but more are planned.
Hafeman said the concept of water birth gained prominence with a French doctor named Frederick LeBoyer.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital Registered Nurse Virginia Johnson demonstrates the operation of the hospital’s new water-birthing tub. The hospital began offering water births about three weeks ago.
"It started back in the 1970s," she said.
With the LeBoyer method, Hafeman said the mother is not in water, but the baby is born into a small tub filled with water.
"They were born and bathed in water immediately," she said.
Hafeman said she has been performing the LeBoyer method for the 19 years she's been with Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital. Some of her own children were born using the method.
Later in the decade, another French pediatrician, Michel Odent, began having women go through both the labor and birth process in large tubs of water.
Hafeman said proponents of water birthing claim the transition from being inside the mother to outside is less traumatic for the newborn.
Hafeman said when babies are being born, they make instinctive movements of their necks and head to help with the birth, and since the 1970s, there has been a great deal of video taken of water births, which show those reflexive movements are enhanced with water births.
"There's been about 300,000 water births that have been documented," she said.
Hafeman said about 1,000 hospitals in the United States are using water tubs. About 300 use them for the labor and birth process, and about 700 use them just for labor with birth done traditionally.
There are benefits to the mother with water births, also, Hafeman said.
"The natural buoyancy of the water will help take the labor pain away," she said.
Being in the water helps the uterus work easier during the birthing process, Hafeman said, and the mother is able to get into the best position for opening the pelvis for the birth.
Hafeman said during the birthing process, she is on the side of the tub assisting the mother. When the baby is born, she takes it in her hands and slowly raises it up to the mother's chest.
"I let the baby deliver naturally," she said.
The baby doesn't take a breath until it's out of the water, Hafeman said.
In order for her to agree to do a water birth, Hafeman said the mother-to-be must have no infections, and the baby must be full term and have strong heart tones.
The tub used for the water births at Aspirus Keweenaw is anti-bacterial fiberglass and the water is kept between 96 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It has jets, which the mother can request be turned on and colored lights for creating a soothing mood.
Hafeman said hospital officials decided to offer water births partly as a way to reduce the need for using drugs.
"They're looking for a more natural way for providing pain relief during labor," she said.
Hafeman said the process for thinking about providing water births began after she received a request from a patient that the hospital do so. Since the decision to do water births was made, there have been many inquiries about it.
"I have a lot of patients that are interested in it," she said.
David Olsson, director of marketing from Aspirus Keweenaw, said the water birth option is part of the hospital's efforts to enhance its birthing center.
"The water birth (option) is the newest addition to our birthing center," he said. "We've spent a great deal of time on the quality of our staff and the comfort of the families when they're here."
There are two labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum rooms in the birthing center, Olsson said.
"A mother can go through labor, delivery, and recovery all in the same room," he said.
The rooms and hallways of the birthing center are painted with soothing colors, Olsson said, and the lights throughout are dimmed, including the waiting room for families.
Olsson said he's heard from many local women who appreciate the effort the hospital has made in creating the birthing center and offering water births.
Hafeman said besides the physical benefits of water births, there is a strong spiritual aspect with it for the mother and the father, if he's present.
Studies have been done on children who were born using the water method, which show their post-birth indicators are very good, Hafeman said.
"The babies do quite well," she said.
However, Hafeman said there are risks associated with water births, but they are about the same as with traditional births. There is the possibility of the umbilical cord being wrapped around the baby's throat because the water may impede the doctor's view of the baby. If a shoulder is stuck, there may be a slight delay in remedying the situation.
An organization called Waterbirth International claims the process has gained a great deal of attention.
"It's all over the world," she said. "It's definitely growing."
A spokeswoman for Waterbirth International (waterbirth.org), Barbara Harper, came to Aspirus Keweenaw in May to give a technical seminar for nurses and doctors and for an open house, which drew about 75 people, Hafeman said.
"It was really well-attended," she said.
The nursing staff is excited the hospital is offering water births, Hafeman said.
"They're extremely supportive," she said.