acog aap issue joint warning concerning birthing pools

Two highly influential medical organizations are now warning hospitals and birthing centers across the United States to proceed with extreme caution in the event they are offering a labor and birthing option that is currently gaining in popularity among expectant mothers.

The labor and birthing option in question is none other than birthing pools. For those unfamiliar with this concept, it essentially involves expectant mothers sitting in a tub of water as a means of alleviating pain and achieving relaxation during labor, and/or as a forum in which to perform childbirth.

While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledge that birthing tubs can provide some potential benefits to a laboring mother, both organizations also acknowledge that the birth injury risks associated with actual underwater birth clearly outweigh its benefits.

According to the jointly issued statement by both ACOG and AAP, the risks of underwater birth include: increased infection risks for both mother and child, increased risk of damage to the umbilical cord, respiratory issues caused by the baby’s inhalation of water, difficulty controlling the body temperature of the baby, and the possibility of post-birth seizures and asphyxiation.

“The birthing process imposes the first life stress test for the unborn and perhaps it is the riskiest trip of our lives,” said one OB/GYN. “I see no reason to make it more risky by laboring or giving birth in the water.”

The ACOG and AAP joint statement recommends that those hospitals or birthing centers offering birthing pools as an option during the first stage of labor should follow certain precautions to protect the health of both mother and baby. Such precautions should include strict eligibility criteria, proper tub maintenance/cleaning, rigorous patient monitoring guidelines and ironclad procedures dictating when a patient should be removed from the tub.

Furthermore, it states that any underwater births performed must be done with the informed consent of patients and only in those clinical trials meeting the necessary medical design standards.

It remains to be seen how hospitals and birthing centers respond to this rather significant opinion piece, and whether it will result in more physicians refusing to recommend a birthing pool under any circumstances.

Source: WATE, “Doctors’ groups warn against underwater births,” March 20, 2014

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