Mia Borgatta had her first and only water birth 11 years ago and she still raves about it. "It helped this incredibly intense experience flow through me," says the 50-year-old yoga instructor, doula, and owner of Ma Yoga in New York.
Borgatta's experience is no longer unusual, as more hospitals offer water birth services. In 1991, only one of about 4,000 U.S. hospitals with maternal care offered water births, according to Barbara Harper, founder of Waterbirth International in Oregon. Today more than 300 hospitals offer them.
As more women contemplate natural childbirth, more gravitate to delivering in a tub of water, mainly because it can help reduce discomfort. "The pressure and pain of labor is significantly less when you're floating than when you're in a hard bed," says David Berger, M.D., of Vitality Health and Wellness in Miami. Last year Dr. Berger helped his wife, Lydia Abrams, deliver their first child in water using deep breathing and relaxation techniques borrowed from yoga. Her labor and delivery lasted three and a half hours, 40 minutes of which she spent pushing. "My wife said ‘ouch' only once," Dr. Berger says. Research confirms that water birthing can reduce tearing, anxiety, pain, and recovery time.
Before you dive in, talk with a doctor or midwife who has experience with water births. Hospitals won't facilitate a water birth if you're less than 36 weeks, are delivering more than one baby, or have medical problems. Check Waterbirth International or Birth Balance to find centers, doctors, and midwives who provide these services. Click here for more about water births.