A retrospective comparison of water births and conventional vaginal deliveries.
Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2000 Jul;91(1):15-20. PMID: 10817872
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Homerton Hospital, London, UK.
The aim of this study was to document the practice of water births and compare their outcome and safety with normal vaginal deliveries. A retrospective case-control study was conducted over a five year period from 1989 to 1994 at the Maternity Unit, Rochford Hospital, Southend, UK. Three hundred and one women electing for water births were compared with the same number of age and parity matched low risk women having conventional vaginal deliveries. Length of labour; analgesia requirements; apgar scores; maternal complications including perineal trauma, postpartum haemorrhages, infections; fetal and neonatal complications including shoulder dystocias; admissions to the Special Care Baby Unit, and infections were noted. Primigravidae having water births had shorter first and second stages of labour compared with controls (P<0.05 and P<0.005 respectively), reducing the total time spent in labour by 90 min (95% confidence interval 31 to 148). All women having water births had reduced analgesia requirements. No analgesia was required by 38% (95% confidence interval 23.5 to 36.3, P<0.0001) and 1.3% requested opiates compared to 56% of the controls (95% confidence interval 46. 3 to 58.1, P<0.0001). Primigravidae having water births had less perineal trauma (P<0.05). Overall the episiotomy rate was 5 times greater in the control group (95% confidence interval 15 to 26.2, P<0.0001), but more women having water births had perineal tears (95% confidence interval 6.6 to 22.6, P<0.001). There were twice as many third degree tears, post partum haemorrhages and admissions to the Special Care Baby Unit in the controls, although these differences were not significant. Apgar scores were comparable in both groups. There were no neonatal infections or neonatal deaths in the study. This study suffers from many of the methodological problems inherent in investigation of uncommon modes of delivery. However, we conclude that water births in low risk women delivered by experienced professionals are as safe as normal vaginal deliveries. Labouring and delivering in water is associated with a reduction in length of labour and perineal trauma for primigravidae, and a reduction in analgesia requirements for all women.