What Is Hydrotherapy And How Can It Help During Labor
M Health Fairview Birthplaces offer hydrotherapy as one option to help relieve discomfort during labor.

Health and Wellness

What is hydrotherapy, and how can it help during labor?

Hydrotherapy can help relieve discomfort during childbirth. We asked certified nurse midwives at M Health Fairview Birthplaces to tell us more.

  • October 14, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

Whether you’re relieving sore muscles after a workout or relaxing after a long day, soaking in a tub of warm water can be a therapeutic experience.

That same technique—warm-water immersion—can also help during labor. That’s why patients who deliver their babies at M Health Fairview Birthplaces have access to hydrotherapy tubs in every labor and delivery room.

We asked two M Health Fairview certified nurse midwives to tell us more about hydrotherapy and its benefits during childbirth.

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is immersion in warm water during labor. It can be used during any part of labor, including early labor and active labor, as well as the late (“pushing”) phase. Hydrotherapy is offered as a comfort measure, providing relaxation and pain relief.

Hydrotherapy is different from a water birth. During a water birth, the baby is delivered underwater in a special water birth tub. Hydrotherapy, on the other hand, is used during labor – but not during delivery. However, most of our Birthplaces also support water birth for low-risk pregnancies. People who are good candidates for this delivery method can pair hydrotherapy and a water birth to create a seamless experience during their labor and delivery.

Women who used hydrotherapy reported that it was more effective at relieving the pain and discomfort of labor than opioid pain medications like morphine and fentanyl, according to the most recent Listening to Mothers survey, a national survey of women’s childbearing experiences. The survey also reported that hydrotherapy relieved anxiety during labor.

How is hydrotherapy beneficial during childbirth?

“Hydrotherapy can help people cope with labor pain and avoid medical interventions during labor,” said Certified Nurse Midwife Heather Jelinek, CNM. “What I’ve noticed from watching people labor in the tub is that they appear to be in less pain during the contractions and are more relaxed between contractions.”

Hydrotherapy is safe for many pregnancies. People who wish to avoid epidurals or opioid pain medications during childbirth may want to consider hydrotherapy as part of their birthing plan.

“Hydrotherapy is open to a lot of patients, even if they have complex or chronic conditions that are impacting their pregnancy. It can even benefit some of those concerns,” said Certified Nurse Midwife Brie Zillhardt, APRN, CNM, who cares for patients at The Birthplace at M Health Fairview Woodwinds Hospital. “We can continue to monitor both parent and child’s vital signs throughout the process.”

Hydrotherapy can also help move labor along. Physical movement like walking or changing position can help labor progress. People who use hydrotherapy often find it easier to move around because they are floating, supported by the water.

Our care team works with patients throughout labor to provide different pain relief options. Hydrotherapy can also be a way to delay pain medication or an epidural but doesn’t prevent a patient from trying these or other options for comfort. Hydrotherapy is also easily reversible: If the technique doesn’t prove to be effective for a person in labor, they can get out and choose a different option.

What else should I know?

Some people choose to use hydrotherapy when they are in early labor so that they can stay home until they enter labor’s active phase, Jelinek said. Patients who choose hydrotherapy in the hospital stay in the tub for an average of two-and-a-half hours.

“Our birthing suites help insulate families from the hospital and provide an intimate experience. We use lavender salts in the bath water and dim lighting in the room,” said Zillhardt. “We provide that calming environment in a hospital space, where we can also best support birthing people.”

M Health Fairview has multiple Birthplace locations across Minnesota for your convenience. Each offers an array of amenities, in a beautiful and soothing environment, supported by top providers with unmatched expertise. Hydrotherapy is one of the ways we support women in their birth choices, helping them to have the birth experience they want.

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