Largest Study on Waterbirth Finds No Harm to Babies
MANA Stats Data Plays Key Role in New Research
In a study published online yesterday in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, MANA Division of Research Coordinating Council members Marit Bovbjerg, Melissa Cheyney, and Courtney Everson explored the issue of waterbirth safety, using the MANA Stats 2.0 dataset.
The study included data from 18,343 women who had home or birth center births; 6,521 (35%) of these women had waterbirths. The researchers found no evidence of harm to babies who were born underwater. Whether looking at 5-minute Apgar score, neonatal transfer to the hospital, any hospitalization in the first 6 weeks, NICU admission in the first 6 weeks, or neonatal death, the results were clear: babies born underwater fared as well as those babies whose mothers did not choose a waterbirth.
While the study confirmed that mothers who had a waterbirth were not at increased risk of postpartum transfer (for a maternal indication), hospitalization in the first 6 weeks, or perineal/uterine infection, the study did suggest that mothers who choose waterbirth have a slightly increased risk of experiencing perineal trauma.
This study is the largest ever published, and the first study to be published in a US population. It provides solid evidence that waterbirth can be a safe and viable option for many lower-risk pregnant women, though midwives and other health care professionals should, as with all childbearing decisions, discuss potential risks and benefits with families and engage in shared decision making.
Excited about this research? We are too, and we owe it all to you! This research would not be possible without the many midwives who contribute data to the MANA Statistics project. The ability to even study waterbirth highlights the value of the MANA Stats project, which provides a rich dataset focused on physiologic birth practices. Without this data source, large research studies on practices like waterbirth would be difficult, given their relative infrequency in the hospital under biomedical management. So, midwife contributors, many thanks for taking the time to advance research on midwifery care and physiologic birth practices! And for those midwives not yet contributing, you can sign-up anytime! Learn more here.
Watch here and on our Facebook page for a forthcoming post on Science and Sensibility discussing the nuances of this article, its methods, and the broader implications, and visuals to share with study outcomes.