(With Barbara Harper, RN, Midwife, Founder of Waterbirth International, Author, Educator)
Water births are for hippies.
That’s what we thought. Then we learned some evidence about water births that shows: many moms don’t request pain meds, they labor faster & prefer water because laboring in water & birthing in water more efficiently supports their muscles, resulting in less of all the uncomfortable pressure throughout contractions.
Not sure about you, but if a water birth helps me have less pain, less pressure & faster labor…uhhh, that sounds pretty legit. Legit enough to at least learn a little more.
So we asked THE leading expert (as in she travels non-stop around the globe & trains doctors, hospitals, midwives, nurses & tons of other people) in water birth, Barbara Harper, to give us the low down. We wondered if we’d ever get past our “hippie” complex.
Do you like spas? Warm baths? Hot tubs? Warm showers? Then a water birth might be right up your alley. Out of 5,000 women who had a water birth, guess how many WOULDN’T do it again (& why). Watch the interview to find out.
Many women don’t know water birth is a safe option. That’s because many birthing classes fail to teach expectant mamas all their Evidence Based Options…options that are based on the best available medical research & evidence. Having a baby without knowing your options is like having a wedding without knowing your options. Why would you do that?
Barbara shares how the weightlessness & buoyancy of water helps mamas’ bodies relax, open up & help baby drop down further in the birth canal making an easier & less painful birth. She also talks about how a relaxing “spa like” experience helps dial down your adrenaline, which keeps labor moving along & helps you feel confident (check out “How to be Fearless during Pregnancy & Birth” with veteran Ob/Gyn Dr. Fischbein). And the obvious question…what the heck keeps baby from breathing water (hint- baby’s been living in ‘water’ the whole time). Barbara explains in detail.
You have options. Water births are one option. The latest evidence says water births can be a safe option. In fact, many cutting edge hospitals & birthing centers offer water births today (and a lot more hospitals are in the process of installing tubs for water births). In about 10 minutes of research, you’ll see waterbirths sound “hippie-ish” simply because it’s different- it’s not how our culture ‘shows’ birth on the big screen.
Remember when being “environmentally conscious” was just a weird hippie thing? Now we have Whole Foods, hybrid cars, alternative energy & other “hippie things” pulling the country (& world) forward. Mainstream media (& many traditional birthing classes) has always shown labor & birth with women on their backs…this is scientifically proven to be the worst position for birth (longer labors, more painful, up to 30% smaller pelvic opening for baby to get through, etc.). We’re seeing pregnant mamas ask a lot more questions. Isn’t it amazing what you learn in 10 minutes? Watch this interview to at least learn more. You’ll be glad you did. :)
You’ll Also Learn
- Other perks women have during a water birth.
- How water births help you fall in love with your baby crazy fast! (hint- involves the serious “flowage” of your hormones)
- The most terrible, horrible, worst thing that can happen to a newborn after birth.
Who Is Barbara Harper?
Barbara Harper is one of THE world’s leading experts on childbirth. Can you tell? She’s been called “the Billy Graham of waterbirth”, we’d venture to say she’s “the Billy Graham of birth education.” She’s traveled to more than 43 countries training doctors, nurses, & doulas in water birth, pregnancy & childbirth approaches. She’s been interviewed in hundreds of journals, publications and TV programs. She is the Founder & Director of Waterbirth International, authored “Gentle Birth Choices” & is currently working on two new books. She’s a registered nurse, midwife & she has 3 children and 1 grandson. We LOVE Barbara Harper! She like to play the flute & write poetry. She still sends hand written letters & birthday cards to all her friends and family. Links mentioned in the interview: www.waterbirth.org & www.waterbirthsolutions.com. *Note* I misspoke when I said water birth solutions is Barbara’s site, it is not, but Water Birth International endorses the site.
Watch the Interview (or download the MP3)
What do you think? Share your thoughts below…
Waterbirth | What are the risks & benefits of water birth? Should I have a water birth?
Sarah: Hi, this is Sarah Blight with Your Baby Booty interviews where we chat with real people about their real experiences so that you can have real takeaways to boost you along in your journey to becoming a mom.
So have you ever considered having a water birth for your next pregnancy of your next baby? Well today, we are talking to the ambassador or the Billy Graham as someone said the Billy Graham of water birth. She is so passionate about spreading the word about water birth to everybody. Her name is Barbara Harper. She is the author or Gentle Birth Choices, and she’s lectured in over 43 countries. She’s been on hundreds of programs and quoted in tons of articles and journals. She is a registered nurse and midwife. She’s an educator, and she has three kids of her own and a grandbaby who’s not really a baby anymore at 13 years old.
Barbara Harper also has a really cool legacy that she is living. Her grandmother was a nurse and a midwife for 47 years, so thank you Barbara for joining us today.
Barbara: Thank you Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Sarah: Thank you. So in all of your experience as both a mom and a grandma and a midwife, what do you want women to know about water birth?
Barbara: I have always said that I want women to know that it’s an option for them. It’s not the end-all and the be-all, and it’s not for every person. Some women just don’t like water. They don’t like to take bath.
Barbara: But if you ever felt the comfort of a warm bath when you have menstrual cramps or you were sick or you just got in a Jacuzzi and you got better, just imagine being in labor and doing that.
Barbara: It’s the best non-narcotic pain management or comfort management that God ever gave us.
Sarah: That is a great point, and I forgot to mention in the intro. You’re the founder and director of Water Birth International, so you do know a thing or two about water birth, and you’ve seen it, you know, how it’s playing out in countries all over the world literally. So that’s a kind of why someone would want to have a water birth. What are the benefits for a mom and the baby of a water birth?
Barbara: The benefit to the mother is so incredibly obvious. It’s you get into the tub. I swim everyday and my swim – So I live in Florida now, and I get in the water, and all the weight goes away. All the – You know, you have no more – You become buoyant.
Barbara: And so – Okay, you’re having contractions. I’d like to call them expansions because you’re expanding. Your energy is going through you and your cervix is opening, but that gnawing kind of sensation in your back goes away with most women.
Barbara: That kind of like menstrual cramps kind of thing.
Barbara: You get in the tub and it disappears. Some women say up to 90% improvement.
Barbara: Some say 50% improvement. For me, it was 100% improvement. From a contraction or an expansion outside of the tub to in the tub, it was night and day.
Barbara: No question about it. And I’ve seen the faces of hundreds of women go ahhh.
Barbara: Like they just go – And I hear all the time, “Oh, thank you God.
Barbara: Oh my God. Oh my God, this is so wonderful.”
Sarah: And it seems like if you’re feeling like that ahhh feeling that that would just help open your body up even more to let your baby come out.
Barbara: Chemically speaking, your brain actually gives you more oxytocin and endorphins. The two come together to aid in your process of birth. I’d like to call – I don’t like natural. I don’t like normal. I like to say undisturbed.
Barbara: And when you have a quiet space, and you’re in the bath, in a birth pool, you do relax better. And so your adrenalin or your norepinephrine turns down. The amplitude goes down. When you’re frightened or the bed with a monitor, your epinephrine levels are very high, and that keeps you from dilating.
In all of the studies that have been done across the board with 2,000 women in birthing water and 2,000 women birthing in bed, the women in the water had shorter labors sometimes by an hour, sometimes like 2 hours.
Barbara: The average – And I’ve got them all laid out. I’ve analyzed every single study out there, and there’s plenty of studies.
Barbara: The benefits for the women are shorter labors, easier births. You can get into any position. You have better hormonal flow.
Barbara: And when your hormones work that way that may produce the hormones that make you chemically, physiologically, neurologically fall in love with your baby.
Barbara: And you say, “Give me back my baby.” You know, “Where’s my baby?” You can’t help it.
Barbara: And it’s happening without you even knowing it.
Sarah: So what about for the baby? How is it a gentle birth for them? What’s the difference between…?
Barbara: Well, we’ve had mothers in the tub that don’t even know they’re in “transition” because it’s so easy for them, and they’re just simply breathing through the expansions. They’re breathing through with every wave of energy that comes through them. I’ve had clients that didn’t even know that the baby’s head was out honestly, truly. They have been singing and intoning, or you know, throughout the short 90 seconds or 2 minutes of a lengthy second stage contraction expansion. So it’s so gentle if the baby does the work.
In my workshops on water birth, I explained that the baby has to make four primitive reflexes, and what actual…
Sarah: Oops, I think we lost Barbara. Having a…
Barbara: Well, I sure didn’t do anything. I don’t know. I still hear you. It’s coming back.
Sarah: Oh, okay, good. You said that – I lost you at primitive reflexes.
Barbara: Okay. The baby has some primitive reflexes that help it navigate its way out of the birth canal…
Barbara: …under the pubic bone. It does these amazing things that…
Barbara: …neurologist recognize, and chiropractors recognize, and cranial psychotherapist recognize, and the more relaxed the woman is, the easier it is for the baby to do that navigation. When you have that epidural, it cuts out the baby’s navigation system, and so it makes it harder to get the baby out.
Barbara: But with water birth, it makes it easier. So there’s women that turn to me and say, “Oh my God, you didn’t tell me I was going to have an orgasm.” You know, it’s that baby coming through on its own, and it’s like, “Oh my God, what was that?” Instead of feeling like a Mac truck just rammed through you…
Barbara: …you feel incredibly empowered by it.
Barbara: So the baby – It is the gentlest of gentle births. The babies often have the ability, not the reflex, but even the ability to take a breath until it comes up into the air.
Sarah: Okay, that was going to be my next question because…
Barbara: Well, I knew that.
Sarah: Yeah, I know you knew that because you’ve done this a few times.
Barbara: The baby comes out into the water, and it’s like an expanded womb. It’s a womb with a view. It looks up. It can – I’ve seen babies open their eyes and reach out their fingers. I’ve had mothers hold their baby’s fingers and the baby grasp the mother’s fingers while they’re even halfway out. You know, their legs are still inside, but their trunk, and their shoulders, and their hands, and their head are all the way out, and they’re waving their hands, and blinking their eyes, and they make the same faces in the water that they made in the womb the whole time. You know, they’ll grimace and…
Barbara: …you know, just like little fish face.
And then they come up, and as soon as the air hits their face…
Barbara: …not their hands, not their head, the top of their head, not their arms, not their legs, not their butt – Do you remember the movie Home Alone with Macaulay Culkin?
Barbara: The first movie that he did?
Barbara: The real big head one?
Barbara: When he [0:10:23] [Indiscernible] and he goes huh?
Sarah: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Barbara: That is the trigeminal nerve innervation. Trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve, and it innervates around the nose and the mouth and the cheeks, and air under pressure – It’s called gravity…
Barbara: …hits the face, and the fifth cranial nerve signals the brain that says, “We’ve landed on spaceship Earth. We’re here. Yehey. Okay, let’s switch over from an aquatic mammal…
Barbara: …from birth, the entire 9 months inside to an air-breathing mammal. And to do that, we have to also change our metabolism. We have to change our circulation. We have to send blood in great amounts to the lungs, the liver, the kidney, the skin, the gut…
Barbara: …and it all takes a little bit of time to transfer over to do that. Some babies do it immediately.
Barbara: And other babies kind of take their time and say, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m in the right body. Yeah, I’d like to reconsider this.”
Sarah: And so what does it look like if a baby has come out who’s kind of not, you know, immediately transitioning? What would that look like to us?
Barbara: Well, that would look like a baby who is a little lean and a little bluish or dusky in color. They’re not crying.
Barbara: But remember that that Apgar…
Sarah: Barbara, come back to us. Just a second while we get…
Barbara: …one full minute…
Sarah: Oops, we lost…
Barbara: And so…
Sarah: We lost you again Barbara. Can you – You left off at Apgar. Sorry. We’re having a couple connection problems.
Barbara: So that Apgar, that score card proves the baby should be done no sooner than the end of 1 full minute. So that first report card really doesn’t mean a whole lot because the baby is switching over circulation, and the worst possible terrible horrible thing that can happen to a newborn is to cut the cord before that transition has happened.
In the water birth classes that I teach, I say the ideal situation is to leave the cord intact until the placenta has actually come out of the mother’s body. Then you can cut it off anytime you want.
Sarah: And why do you say that Barbara? Why do you believe that?
Barbara: Well, the placenta has up to 150 more milliliters of blood in it. 150 milliliters, let’s translate that into cups. 30 mL is 1 ounce.
Barbara: So we’ve got 30, 90 3-oz, 4-oz, okay 5 oz, about 5 oz of blood that was in the placenta that should be in the baby, and will go to the baby if you don’t cut the cord. And that blood is so necessary to help the baby with its transition to womb to room.
Barbara: From womb to air.
Barbara: From the aquatic environment to the air environment. It’s really, really necessary. There’s been so many things that we’ve learned from water birth because we have this groovy wonderful happy birth experience and babies here on the chest and moms still in the water. What are you going to do? Cut the cord right away and take the baby away from its mother?
Sarah: Yeah. Uh-oh Barbara.
Sarah: Are you there?
Sarah: I’m so sorry. It’s – I’m getting these little signals that says we have a bad connection Barbara. It’s hard to imagine that you and I can have a bad connection…
Sarah: …but apparently, we do. Okay, I have one last question for you. I mean I could talk about this all day. I think this is absolutely fascinating. Fascinating stuff. If you’ve been to 43 plus countries like sharing people, doing workshops, being with women at their water births – You can see pictures…
Barbara: And training. Training doctors.
Sarah: And training doctors and physicians and nurses. So what’s up with us in the United States? Why don’t we hear more about this happening in hospitals if it’s so fabulous?
Sarah: Yes, we’re going there Barbara.
Barbara: It’s called security-oriented way of thinking, i.e., take for instance today. I got a call – I get calls everyday. I get hundreds of e-mails every week. I had a water birth – This woman said, “I had a water birth with my last baby. Thank you so much for writing your book, but I’m now pregnant with twins, and the hospital won’t let me give birth vaginally. They want to do a c-section because one baby is breeched and one baby is vertex, and they won’t even let me labor in the water.” And she goes, “I don’t think I can do it without water.” And we had a very long talk, and I said, “Well, you know, it’s just not going to happen for you if you stay with this doctor in this hospital because I imagine he is following hospital policy and his liability carrier.”
Barbara: The whole reason I started teaching water birth workshops was because a doctor…
Sarah: We’re having some internet problems. Just a second.
Barbara: We lost it again?
Sarah: Yeah, we did. Go ahead. Because the doctor – You left off.
Barbara: Okay. The whole reason I started doing water birth workshops and credentialing for positions was because of a doctor. She called me and said her hospital insurance carrier would not let her do water birth until she should show evidence of advanced education or credentialing in water birth. So I created the course and called her up, and in 2007, we did our first one and we had a 150 doctors and midwives in that first one.
Barbara: And we’ve just – I’ve just – I think I’ve sent you my CD…
Barbara: …that which is I have in pages…
Barbara: …and I just bring them, and I’ve been known for never saying the same things twice. I mean I say the same things all the time. In education is be education…
Barbara: …but I kind of deliver it in different ways, and I’ve had doctors look at me when I give them all of this information, and sometimes they start crying, and they say, “I have no idea that birth could be like that.” If you’ve only seen birth one way…
Barbara: …how can you imagine it in the other way?
Barbara: There was a doctor in Taiwan, when I pointed out that women’s tailbone goes up when the baby comes down…
Barbara: …and that you can tell how dilated she is without doing a vaginal exam…
Barbara: …he put his hands up in the air and he goes, “How would I ever know that. I’ve never seen a woman off her back?”
Barbara: So it’s just – I call it a paradigm shift.
Barbara: You just really have to shift your concepts and your understanding. That’s why my very last workshop was in a medical school in Mexico, and I had all of the residents, and again, jaws dropping and tears flowing, and from these young 23 and 24-year-old doctors saying, “Oh my God, this is amazing.
Barbara: Women’s bodies really do know how to give birth and babies know how to be born.”
Barbara: So I tell them this. I said, “Okay, does the lifeguard on the beach get paid if nobody drowns that day?
Barbara: If you don’t have any emergencies, and everybody’s out in the beach, and they’re all playing, and all surfing, and swimming, and you just sit there and get a tan…
Barbara: …but you got the whistle, and you got the rescue board, and you know what to do in case of an emergency. You have all of your education all of your drills, all of your understanding, but 9 times out of 10, we don’t have to use those skills, and so you get paid but just sitting there and watching this miraculous event…
Barbara: …where I’ve had doctors that…
Sarah: That’s a good point.
Barbara: …have created other careers by becoming birth photographers. One doctor in Australia knitted baby caps for babies. So he would do something.
Sarah: That’s cool. It was a guy? It was a guy who would knit those?
Barbara: Yes. Yeah.
Barbara: For babies.
Sarah: That’s really cool.
Barbara: And there’s a doctor in Mexico that I was just with. He paints a watercolor of the woman in labor while she’s laboring.
Sarah: Are you kidding me?
Barbara: No. That’s what he does. He sits there, he paints the watercolor, and then gives it to her.
Sarah: Oh my word. Well, I – So I want to say because there’s a lot of women watching. If you’re kind of like the women that – I’ve seen them on your Facebook page too. You should check out Barbara Harper’s Facebook page. It’s really great – that there’s, you know, the women who say, “I’m giving birth at this military hospital. I’m giving birth. So it’s such and such a place, and they don’t have water birth. What can I do?” What do you tell those women? Obviously, we need to clone you about 500 more times so that we can…
Barbara: I’m training other midwives to do what I do.
Sarah: Okay, good.
Barbara: And there is – If you just consult with the home birth midwives in your area, you can find all kinds of alternatives, but I tell women who are basically forced to be in the hospital because of their insurance and because of the autonomy…
Sarah: Uh-huh, right.
Barbara: …and maybe that’s where they feel safe.
Barbara: They might feel safe with backup services down the hall.
Barbara: And we won’t go into the whole home birth debate, but…
Barbara: …birth weights – Okay, we’re almost back.
Sarah: Okay. Oh, we’re back.
Barbara: The most frequent reason for home birth transport is maternal exhaustion, but if you’re in the hospital and you would like to avail yourself of water, I tell women if your doctor says absolutely no, start early with your request, but it takes a willing provider. That provider has to be willing to look at the research, look at the documentation, and maybe even attend a certification for us…
Barbara: …or at least watch a few videos on water birth and not the ones on YouTube because they’re not done correctly, okay.
Sarah: Thank you. Thank you for saying that.
Barbara: Yes. I mean some of them are, some of them aren’t, but really get an educational video on it, and we’re looking at producing some more, but willing provider, cooperative nurse manager. The nursing department has many different head, and the head of maternal child health in every single hospital holds her weight, and she has to coordinate the physicians, the pediatricians, the nurses, the administration. She has a lot to do…
Barbara: …so that you can have the birth that you want. And usually, they’re very willing to go out of their comfort zone and look at it, but don’t go in demanding things. Go in and say, “If nothing else, just let me labor in the tub. And here’s where I’m going to buy it. I can go to waterbirthsolutions.com and buy it. I’ve read about it on waterbirth.org, print out the articles, take Roseann, call me if we need some support or drop me an e-mail, but the birth ingredient is a woman that won’t take no for an answer.” And that’s you.
Barbara: That’s – You know, after you do your research, you just say, “Yeah, I’d like to try this.
Barbara: And you know, very few women who try it say that they don’t like it.
Barbara: I did a survey for women who’ve given birth in water and one of the questions is, “Would you consider having given birth again in water?”
Barbara: And out of 5,000 surveys that I actually have on record, only one woman ever said no.
Barbara: And she said no with a big no.
Barbara: Underline, underline, exclamation, exclamation, exclamation, and dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot until the end of the page. This is when we were still using surveys on paper.
Barbara: Sort of monkey, okay. And she said in very small print, “Please turn over.” I turned it over to the other side, and it said in big bold print, “This is number seven. I’m done.”
Sarah: So she was done with kids, not with water birth.
Barbara: I’ve dedicated my life to it…
Barbara: …and my motto for Water Birth International is we ensure that water birth is an available option for all women, and to do that, we have to educate, we have to supply the materials, and the understanding that it’s safe, that there’s no harm. You won’t get an infection from poop in the water.
Barbara: Believe me, when I said to the doctors the solution to pollution is dilution and that little trick that they played…
Barbara: …you know, with the tub, I have never seen a tub look like that ever…
Barbara: …ever. Yeah.
Sarah: Yeah. And if you guys don’t know what we’re talking about, you have to go to Barbara’s site. She did an interview on the show The Doctors, and it was very controversial because the doctor was pretty attacking, and you did a fabulous job by the way. Yeah, and that’s I think one of the misconceptions about water birth is it’s just gross. Who would want to sit in all that junk.
Barbara: We’ve had dads get up and take a shower afterwards, but – and just cry, and then they look at the tub, and okay, so it has a little blood in it after the placenta’s out, but I’ve also seen births that were not even one drop of blood. Nothing. It looked like this vernix floating around on the water, and that’s it. It’s not…
Sarah: It sounds like we’re having some troubles again. Barbara, are you there?
Sarah: We’re trying to get the call back. Okay. Well, I just want to end. We’re running out of time. I could talk to you all night, but I want to end with this that I love on your e-mail signature that you say that you’ve been helping women get into hot water for over 27 years.
Sarah: I have to say that that says it all. Barbara Harper, thank you for being an ambassador for water birth and being the Billy Graham of water birth. You’re doing a great work, and we really appreciate what you’re doing to educate all of us about what it means to have a gentle birth, and if that is something that a woman wants to do that she can really go after it and try to make it happen for herself.
Sarah: And obviously, she has your support, which is really great. We will include the links to your water birth international site, your water birth solutions website as well to give women some extra resources. If you mamas who are watching have any thoughts about water birth that you’d like to share, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for watching and we will see you guys next time.
Barbara: Take care. Bye-bye.