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water babies

'It made me feel empowered': The Coombe celebrates 100 water births

The hospital has invited all of the parents and their water babies back for a reunion which will take place later today.

WHEN JULIE HUNTER Shaw went into Labour with her first child Finn, she found it all “very daunting”.

“I could hear women screaming and I thought that’ll be me soon, maybe I should get an epidural”.

The 30-year-old had told midwives she was interested in a water birth and The Coombe in Dublin offers this option to women as part of a study they have been carrying out.

“I asked the nurse should I get the epidural and she said they’d fill up the pool and I could get in and if they didn’t like it I could get out and get the epidural.”

I sat into it and the first half an hour I was able to talk again and drink water. I was able to get a bit of a break from it all. It got very tough again of course, but it gave me a little breather in the middle of it.

Hunter Shaw stayed in the pool to deliver her baby, but some women use the pool as a method of pain relief and then get out to give birth, Paula Barry, research midwife at the Coombe explained.

“It’s called hydrotherapy. If you have period pain, or back pain, etc you like a warm bath. We know water is good for pain relief. It’s also good for gravity, the woman is weightless – the pool is the size of three to four baths.”

Barry is currently conducting research comparing the benefits and outcomes of water births with those of what are referred to as ‘land births’, which are not in water.

To celebrate the more than 100 water births that have taken place at The Coombe since 2014, the hospital is today welcoming back all of the parents and their water babies for a reunion.

Barry said she hopes highlighting the positive experiences of mothers who chose water births will encourage more women to consider it as an option.

“We want people to know that it’s not just a matter of putting them in and then walking away. These women get the exact same care as everyone on the ward, we monitor their blood pressure, the baby’s heartbeat, if we’re worried we’ll ask them to exit the pool – it’s not water birth at all cost,” she told

This is for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies that go into labour themselves at term.

Previous research studies have incdicated a number of benefits of using a birthing pool.

“They say there is definitely less pain, you find women requiring less epidurals and other forms of pain relief. The women seem to cope quite well when they get in.”

The described the process as a “gentle birth” that the mothers are in control of. No one touches the baby until it has fully emerged and is in the water.

This is because of nerves on the baby’s skin – once they are touched, the baby may begin breathing too soon.

“We’ll guide the baby out of the water to their mother and the baby will then breathe once they hit the air,” Barry said.

She said there is “something different” about babies who are born through water birth.

“You could put it down to no pain relief – they’re not drugged so they seem quite alert. It’s a gentle birth, there’s no big pushing and mum is very much in control. When the baby is born, one thing all the evidence points to is that the eye contact with the mother and baby is amazing.

“It’s like they’re on a natural high, they’re both so alert from that natural adrenaline rush. They’re also inclined to breastfeed straight away, their sucking is strong. And generally mums will have a natural third stage so they don’t need to revert to medication for the placenta.”

For Julie Hunter Shaw, deciding to have a water birth made all the difference.

She had been overdue and was given a membrane sweep to help kickstart her labour. She said she is “so grateful” for this because it meant she went into labour naturally and allowed her to pool birth.

“Definitely I think it did make me feel more relaxed. You’re just told to listen to your body. It made me feel empowered. I was in control of the birth. You always see in the movies, the doctor delivers the baby – well I delivered my baby. They half pulled him out of the water and I half pulled him out onto myself.”

Hunter Shaw said baby Finn breastfed without any problems and she experienced no tearing during the birth so her recovery was quick.

“I was discharged after one night and up and about walking around my local park the next day. I think the way I delivered Finn really got us off to a good start as it meant I was in good physical shape with minimal pain so I was mobile and mentally I felt in control of my body during birthing and felt confident in being a new parent.

“It’s important for a woman to feel in control in labour and I’m just really thankful that I was lucky enough to have such a positive birthing experience.”

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