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Immersion in water during the second stage of labor: a randomized controlled trial

      BACKGROUND

      Current obstetrical guidelines in the United States caution firmly against birth in water, but patients remain interested in this intervention. Limited data are available to evaluate the safety and efficacy of water immersion in the second stage of labor for patients and neonates.

      OBJECTIVE

      This study aimed to ascertain the effects of water use during the second stage of labor on maternal outcomes. Second, it aimed to propose guidelines for midwives conducting the second stage of labor in water.

      STUDY DESIGN

      A randomized, prospective design was used to evaluate the primary outcomes of maternal experience in labor and trauma to the birth canal and several secondary neonatal and maternal outcomes when participants delivered in water vs in a conventional setting. Participants were recruited at 2 academic state hospitals serving the same low- to middle-income group urban population in the midwestern suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa over a period of 2 years. Individuals in active labor without exclusion criteria were asked to participate in the study. A total of 120 participants were enrolled, with 60 randomized to water birth and 60 to conventional birth. Outcomes were compared using the chi-square and Fisher exact tests.

      RESULTS

      The use of water during birth significantly reduced the participants’ perception of experienced pain than what they expected it to be (P=.006) and enhanced their satisfaction with their ability to cope with labor (P=.010). No differences were noted in trauma to the birth canal. No adverse maternal effects were noted. One early neonatal death occurred in the water group. The most likely cause of death was preexisting intrauterine fetal infection.

      CONCLUSION

      Participants who delivered in water were significantly more satisfied with their birthing experience. The possible harmful effect of inhalation of fresh water by a baby is not resolved, and a large randomized controlled trial is recommended. It is recommended that immersion in water during the second stage of labor should only be offered by competent birth attendants who follow specific guidelines until clear evidence is available on the possible beneficial or harmful effects. Pending further evidence, we recommend adding salt to the bath to produce a physiological saline solution to reduce theoretical risks associated with fresh water inhalation by the neonate.

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