Rules revised on water births

Debate over the safety of water births has been reignited by revised Health Department guidelines that say King Edward Memorial Hospital's paediatricians do not support the practice, even at its popular family birth centre.

Water birth is available at the birth centre as well as at Kaleeya, Bunbury and Armadale Kelmscott District Memorial hospitals, and through community midwives.

But a circular released by the department on January 30 confirms that some doctors are reluctant to have anything to do with water birth, with a reference to controversy regarding its safety for the baby during the second stage of labour.

"For this reason, paediatricians at King Edward Memorial Hospital do not endorse water births at this hospital or at the family birth centre," the guidelines say. "The Women's and Newborns Health Network does not necessarily advocate water birth but recognises that women have a right to choose it."

Women have to sign a consent form if they want a water birth and agree they will not be able to have one if they have to be transferred to KEMH's main labour suite.

The guidelines say water immersion during the first stage of labour reduces the use of epidurals but say there is limited information for other outcomes related to water use during the first and second stages of labour.

Michelle Meares, from Homebirth Australia, said inflexible policies were one of the reasons women chose to stay away from hospitals to give birth.

Australian Medical Association WA obstetrics spokesman Michael Gannon said there was no issue with women using warm water during labour to ease their pain.

"The reason the paediatricians at KEMH have written in that disclaimer is because there is also an increased risk of the baby inhaling meconium or blood and getting too cold," he said.

Dr Gannon, who heads obstetrics and gynaecology at St John of God Hospital in Subiaco, said some women were "looking for a certain experience" but there was increased risk associated with it.

Danielle Senini had her son Ash by water birth at her Fremantle home almost four years ago and said it was a wonderful experience.

Now 24 weeks pregnant with her and husband Michael's second child, she will again opt for a home birth with a private midwife and will use a pool during her labour.

"I was ecstatic with the outcome first time so will definitely use water again, although I might end up birthing out of the pool this time," she said.

The West Australian

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