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Considering a water birth?
Sutirtha Sanyal
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May 03, 2007

The water birth has finally made its foray into India. This form of delivering a baby is very safe, and results in less labour pain. During a water birth, a mother gives birth to her child in a pool or tub full of water. Parents who are considering this option need not worry -- there is no chance of the baby's death due to asphyxiation or drowning.

Violet, a baby girl born to a British couple in Delhi on Saturday April 28, at 6.45 am, is the first baby to be born in India through this method.

Dr Urvashi Sehgal, who facilitated the delivery, said a water birth improves the chances of a normal delivery without the use of any painkillers or drugs, which may be required in the conventional method. According to her, "Water helps to provide relief from pain, and offers great benefits to the woman in labour."

Immersion in warm water raises the body temperature and causes the blood vessels to dilate, resulting in increased blood circulation. Thus, larger quantities of blood and oxygen are able to reach the uterine muscles.

A water birth also allows a mother to manoeuvre her body during the labour process, with the water offsetting the pressure experienced during childbirth. The hydrostatic pressure of water relieves the discomforts of contractions and relaxes the body, which in turn stimulates the release of endorphins -- the body's natural painkillers.

Precautions however, are necessary -- the water has to be pure and clean. It should also match the mother's body temperature and, at least in India, the procedure should be conducted under medical supervision.

"In the West though, a water birth even takes place at home," says Dr Sehgal. But she does not advise a water birth for expectant mothers who suffering from severe infectious diseases. In such cases, the chances of the infection being passed onto the child cannot be ruled out.

Dr Sehgal also clarified a report appearing in a national daily, which said that the procedure had side-effects -- in the sense that if proper care was not taken at the time of the delivery, it could result in the death of the child due to asphyxiation or drowning.

"The placenta is a water-filled sac, and the baby is coming out of one watery environment into another. The baby is also still attached to the mother by the umbilical cord when it is born, so it doesn't breathe. Secondly, even if the baby swallows water, it will enter the stomach and not the lungs," says Dr Sehgal.

"Most importantly, the umbilical cord is severed only when the baby is out of the water. So it's absolutely safe," she adds.

Charlotte Walter, whose earlier two children were born through the water birth method in the UK, approached several hospitals in Delhi for her third childbirth, but none had water-birth facilities. That's when she approached Dr Sehgal at Phoenix Hospital.

"We were thinking of this procedure for the last three years, but somehow or the other, things never took off.  When Charlotte approached us, we were very happy. We do hope other expectant mothers will also opt for this method," said Dr Sehgal.

The method is also not very expensive. Maybe only five percent more than the charges for a normal delivery, which can range from Rs 18,000 to 45,000 at a private hospital in Delhi.

"Our hospital has the infrastructure for supervising two water births simultaneously. But it's very unlikely that two births will take place at the same time," said Dr Sehgal.

"A team of paediatricians is always present during childbirth, and operation theatres are always on standby to tackle any emergency that might arise," added Dr Deepak Sehgal, CEO of Phoenix Hospital.

Charlotte's husband, who assisted in the delivery and cut the umbilical cord, said he felt a "great sense of participation and bonding with the child."

As of now, Dr Sehgal and her team are looking forward to more expectant mothers opting for a water birth over the conventional method.

"Different bodies react differently to water; expectant mothers must be mentally prepared for the experience. Doctors cannot force this upon them," she says.

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