How to Use Water in Labor

Using Hydrotherapy to stay comfortable in labor

Hydrotherapy, using water in labor for relief and comfort is an amazing tool that can help you get through labor until you plan to get your epidural or until you give birth. Hydrotherapy is usually one of a Doulas' favorite tools for supporting families in labor, but it can also be used with you and your support person. Labor is a mental battle, which means getting through labor is just as much of a physical drain as it is a mental drain. Not only are you working physically in labor, walking, squatting, rocking, contracting, vocalizing, but you are also telling yourself mentally that you can do this. You and your support team have to encourage yourself in your moments of doubt. You must feel safe and supported. 

What does hydrotherapy in labor look like?

Hydrotherapy, or use of water, in labor can look a few different ways, all of which can be very useful for you as you plan out your tools to achieve your labor goals. Using the shower in labor is one of the first ways we will talk about hydrotherapy in labor to stay comfortable. The shower will typically be pointed at your lower back or sacrum area to help you get relief from your contractions. With a shower, since it does not surround your body, you can utilize a hotter temperature than you could if you were in a bath.

Using the tub, either at home or in the hospital or birth center, is a wonderful use of water in labor. The tub allows the whole lower half of your body to be surrounded by warm water that not only provides relief from your contractions, but also helps you feel buoyant. Both of those feelings give your body a break from the movement that is required in labor to help it progress naturally. 

You can also use a bowl of cold water and ice and a washcloth to cool off your neck or chest during intense or transition contractions. Different temperature feelings can be distracting, in a good way, for your brain during labor, giving it something else to focus on for a while. Using a cool rag while you are in the tub, can keep your body cooler, but still allow you to feel relief from the warm water over your lower back, legs and belly. 

Practically applying hydrotherapy to your labor

If your goal is a natural, unmedicated delivery, water is certainly something you will want to use in labor, shower or tub, both will be a great tool for you. Be sure to switch around what you are doing to stay comfortable, it will help keep your brain slightly distracted, but it will also keep you moving, which keeps your pelvis open and helps your baby descend into and through the pelvis and eventually the birth canal. Try laboring in the tub or shower for an hour or two and then switch to walking or using the birth ball by your bed, or doing rotating squats. Your support person or your Doula can help you think of different things to do to keep you occupied and moving. 

If you and your partner find this somewhat overwhelming to research and remember all of this, consider a childbirth education class to help you both prepare for what to expect and tools for each stage of labor. 

While hydrotherapy cannot be used if you have an epidural in place, it can still be helpful for keeping you comfortable while you either wait for your designated time to get your epidural or while you wait for the anesthesiologist to come, which can sometimes take up to an hour. 

What if my birthing location does not have tubs?

Not a problem! If your birthing location does not have tubs, they will have showers. A shower is a fabulous use of water in labor. Additionally, you can labor in your tub at home before you make your way to your birthing location as a way to stay comfortable and calm while you labor. There are so many options and if you have a Birth Doula, they can help you navigate your options and know when is the right time to get in or our of the tub/shower.