Head-to-Body Delivery in Water Birth

July 25, 2020

"Is it safe for only the head to be birthed, waiting for the next contraction?" is one common question I receive from women prenatally, as well as during the birth process. For land and water birth, this has been a common question.

A great one if you ask me! While some babies come out like torpedoes in a hurry in one contraction, most will take at least one more contraction, if not a few more contractions after the head has presented.  

A study in 2015 showed that the average time of head-to-body delivery interval was shorter than 60 seconds (with governed/assisted birth). While 44.57% of the births took longer than 60 seconds to occur, once head was expelled. This means the head was birthed, and waited longer than one minute. In that time, baby's were fine and not in harms way.  

Those in this study were likely all land births, though. So, what happens that entire minute+ baby is under water?  Over 30% of the babies in the (land birth) study began crying before the shoulders were birthed.

Can babies cry under water?

The answer is no. They do not cry under water. They may open their eyes, possibly their mouths, but they will not cry. They cannot cry because their lungs have never been filled with air. To cry, we must have air in our lungs. They leave a sac of water in the womb, into another body of water. Therefore, they can be alert, but they do not breathe or cry until they hit air.

Once a baby hits the air, their instinct is often to begin breathing. They start the transition of gathering oxygen from the air instead of the umbilical cord at this time. While under water, baby is still getting oxygen from the placenta, through the umbilical cord, just as they have while in utero.

When could drowning become a variable?

It could become an issue when oxygen stops being provided by the placenta. There is no exact time to accurately offer as to when the placenta stops offering oxygen. It will stop once the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. It will detach at a different time for everyone; some at 5 minutes or less, some after 30 minutes or more. You can tell when it stops pulsating because the cord will become white and limp when the vessels are no longer offering an exchange of oxygen.

When in the pushing stage of a water birth, waiting for the head to body delivery, keep this in all in mind! Possibly checkout this study, discussing the safety of water birth.

Have you had a water birth? If so, share you thoughts regarding your experience(s)!