In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

Less and less is done.
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Tao Te Ching

Monday, March 7, 2011

The History of Waterbirth

Hi Everyone,
For this post on water birth I am going to quote shamelessly (with permission of course) from my pregnancy/birthing bible Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper, R.N. for the simple fact that I would never write about it better than her......
In the sixth century B.C., Aristotle concluded that water was the first principle of life. He observed that the seeds of everything had a "moist nature". However, it was not until the 1700s that scientists began to understand and identify the properties of water, including its value as a form of hydrotherapy. An obscure book called Water Cures, printed in London in 1723, describes the benefits of water used for all kinds of conditions, including bathing during pregnancy and labor. Intuitively, human beings have always been drawn to the soothing comfort of water.

Historically there is little concrete evidence that ancient cultures practiced water birth on any scale, but it has been used by cultures all over the world. There are legends that the ancient Egyptians birthed selected babies under water. These babies became priests and priestesses. The ancient Minoans on the island of Crete are said to have used a sacred temple for water birth. Art on frescoes in the Minoan ruins depict dolphins and their special connection with humans and water. One can only speculate about the connection between these pictures and their creators. The Chumash Indians of the central California coast tell stories about their women laboring in tide pools and shallow inlets along the beach while the men of the tribe drummed and chanted. Chumash elder Grandfather Semu, now in his late eighties, recalls that when he was a boy, women would often go to the beach and labor in the shallow water. He also remembers that on many of these occasions, dolphins would appear nearby in the water, staying close to the woman until the baby was born. Other Indian tribes in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Maoris of New Zealand and the Samoan people of the Pacific, may have given birth in shallow ocean or river environments. Traditions from the Hawaiian Islands maintain that certain families on the islands have been born in water for many thousands of generations.

Many midwives suspect that water birth was taking place before the advent of physicians and hospitals, even though it has not been documented. Where there was water, especially warm water, women used it to relieve labor pains. The first recorded modern water birth took place in France in 1803. The case, which was detailed in a French medical society journal, reports that a woman who had been laboring for forty-eight hours sought temporary relief from her non progressing labor in a warm bath. After just moments in the tub, the baby came out so quickly that she didn't have time to leave the water to deliver her child. Subsequent reports of waterbirth were scattered until the 1960s, when documentation of water births began in the Soviet Union.

Around that time interesting stories emerged from the Soviet Union about the work of Igor Charcovsky, a primarily self-educated Russian scientist and healer who conducted research on animals laboring and birthing in water. He also observed human babies' behaviour in water, including that of his daughter Veta, who was born prematurely in 1963. Charcovsky placed his newborn daughter in a tub of warm water for several weeks, theorizing that she would not have to combat gravity and subsequently would not waste as much energy to survive as she would struggling in the hospital incubator. Charcovsky's daughter survived, and he continued experimenting with water, newborns, and the effects of gravity on all aspects of human labor.
Excerpt from Gentle Birth Choices

Personally I labored in a birthing pool with two of my three children and had a profoundly positive experience. If you have an inspiring birth story whether it be waterbirth or not, please feel free to share it....your knowledge and experience may just be what someone else needs to hear :)

All the best Cynthia Marston

Details for Gentle Birth Choices are as follows:

Harper, Barbara R.N. Gentle Birth Choices: A Guide to Making Informed Decisions About Birthing Centres-Birth Attendants-Water Birth-Home Birth-Hospital Birth.
Rochester Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1994.