Want a water baby? Coombe’s birthing pool makes a splash

Despite being something of an innovation now, it was suggested in Dublin back in 1838

It was May 2014 when Celene Murphy became the first woman to birth her baby in water at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital with midwife Ruth Banks.

Enjoying the recent CWIUH celebration to mark 100 water births, Celene says comparing Archie’s birth with that of her older daughter is comparing “night and day”. “If I could go back and have her in the pool I would,” she says. As they leave she tells Ruth she’ll see her in October for “number 3”.

Banks had become Clinical Skills Facilitator on the labour ward when the pool was installed in 2013. “We were still working on guidelines and we started getting women to labour in water,” recalls Banks. “It progressed when Celene said to me,’I don’t want to get out’, and I said, ‘okay’.”

Research midwife Paula Barry hosted the celebrations for water babies and parents. "We've actually had 108 water births now, while 320 women have used the pool to labour,' she tells The Irish Times. "To be honest it hasn't been easy, but we are delighted it worked out because women need options of care."

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Many CWIUH midwives can now assist at water births. “There was a lot of work around getting people trained and setting guidelines, and I think there was a bit of anxiety around it,” says Banks. “However, now there’s usually at least one midwife per shift that is confident with it. If a midwife is only comfortable with labouring in water then women get out for the actual birth. Our mums understand.”

Dim the lights

So how do they prepare for a water labour or birth. “We dim the lights,” says Banks. “We have music. We pull curtains around the pool. It’s very much about making a nest. When women get into water they are weightless, they can move around, get in, get out, go to the loo. They are not on a bed, not on a monitor. They are ‘well’. Most women don’t feel the need to come out for an epidural because they are coping. But if they do want an epidural, that’s fine too. It’s their choice.”

I love being at all births, but a water birth is always that bit more exciting and special

“Midwife means ‘with woman’,” adds Banks. “The pool is one means to be with women and help them cope with their labour, and to feel empowered in what their body can do for them. As a midwife I love being at all births, but a water birth is always that bit more exciting and special. Perhaps that’s because it is still new to us, but women say ,”I can do this’, and feel if they can do this they can do anything. I feel we’re actually preparing women for motherhood. Because of having ‘skin-to-skin’ immediately we probably have greater breastfeeding rates, and women also talk about the bonding they feel, and how calm their babies are. The other thing that happens, which is fantastic, is we don’t immediately clamp the cord and we do a lot of drug-free delivery of the placenta.

“We all remember our birth stories. What we do as midwives is we make a difference and it can be positive or negative, so if we can empower somebody to have this, it’s very rewarding.”

In Thami Gaberz’s native Brazil elective Caesarean section is the norm for pregnant women, but she has been regaling friends and family about baby Theodoro’s water birth. “Your body feels so relaxed. I felt like my body was dancing over the water. I got gas, but I really connected with the contractions. On my first baby I was in bed and I couldn’t move. This one the midwife came to check but I was in total control of everything. It was fantastic.”

Hands-off midwifery

Tracy Armstrong has now had two water births. First Emily and then Thea, water baby 107. " I did hypnobirthing which worked really well with the pool," says Armstrong. "One thing I really liked is that it's hands- off midwifery. When the baby is born you're the first one to hold them and lift them and cuddle them. They say 'okay baby's coming' and tell you where to put your hands and then you lift them out."

"What a happy occasion," comments retired midwife Ann Louise Mulhall. "Did you know Master of the Rotunda Evory Kennedy talked to the Dublin Obstetrical Society about using water in 1838?" She finds the quote referring to the work of 16th century doctor, Thadeus Dun: "He mentions a case of illustrating the efficiency of the warm bath, which he certainly medicated in tedious labour and it would be well if our more enlightened practitioners of the 19th century . . . rendered themselves familiar with it".

The 21st Century Maternity Strategy recommends options including birthing pools for women. However, CWIUH is the only hospital in the Republic offering women water birth ,and here they are only available with strict guidelines, under the auspices of a research study. However, what is already obvious from that study, says Banks, is that women require less medical pain relief and have radically improved birth experiences.

“Some of the women said about our space here that it’s like going into a spa. says Banks. “People deserve to have a good birthing experience. That’s what we should be striving for.”