Water birth study by School of Nursing researcher drawing international attention

Emory University School of Nursing assistant professor Priscilla Hall, PhD contributed to a recent meta-analysis study on water births that is gaining far-reaching recognition. The study shows that water births provide clear benefits for mothers and their babies, with fewer complications than standard care methods. The new research involving Hall is receiving significant attention from medical professionals and media sources such as “Good Morning America.”

Water birth is when a woman in labor gives birth in a deep bath or birthing pool. The newborn starts breathing as soon as his or her face emerges from the surface of the water.  Water birth is relatively uncommon in the United States, and is considered an alternative care modality, despite being an intervention that is safe and valuable to birthing women. The reasons for the lack of availability of this intervention are complex, but one contributing factor is a lack of information about water birth safety in medical education. “This makes the intervention feel foreign to physicians and facilitates the assumption that water birth is an alternative form of care primarily for midwifery patients in out of hospital settings,” said. Hall. She continued, “This meta-analysis study was focused mostly on hospital-based care, the setting where physicians provide care and where 98 percent of US births happen. The study’s focus on the hospital setting made it meaningful to physicians and gave it broader attention.”

The study was done in collaboration with researchers from Oxford Brookes University, with Ethel Burns, PhD, as primary investigator, Jennifer Vanderlaan, PhD from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Claire Feeley, PhD from King’s College in London. A synthesis of the available evidence led the team to conclude that water births in an obstetric setting have numerous benefits, including lower pain levels and reduced heavy bleeding in labor. The study also showed that waterbirths lead to higher satisfaction levels for mothers and improved odds of avoiding perineal tears or lacerations.

The Royal College of Midwives expressed support for the study, stating, “Research showing the safety and positive benefits for women having a water birth has been welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives. The research showed that women having a water birth in a hospital obstetric unit had fewer medical interventions and complications during and after the birth.”

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