Dubai: Dubai had its first water birth at Al Zahra Hospital, Al Barsha.
Baby Arlo, weighing 3,025 gm, son of Aimee Stevenson and Johnathan Kennaugh, was born in a warm water pool on July 29, under full observation of medical experts, in a method of birthing that has appealed to thousands of women worldwide for many decades.
The decision for a water birth was identified by Aimee on her birth plan and the hospital, which opened the water birthing facility a month ago, agreed as she met all the low-risk birthing criteria.
Water birthing is a common holistic delivery alternative that mothers opt for in the UK and other parts of Europe and, in the recent past, in the US as well. It is relatively uncommon in the UAE with the exception of one hospital in Al Ain providing this facility since 2011.
In Dubai, Al Zahra is the first facility to have a birthing pool.
Aimee, the delighted mother, described her experience to Gulf News: “A water birth was my first choice for my first baby and being able to do it in Dubai has been a dream come true.
“The hospital created a magical environment for my baby’s birth with a large pool, soothing lighting, and even a constellation of stars projected on to the roof [to enhance the feeling of serenity and space].”
The entire experience, said Aimee, was one of extreme comfort and cosiness, with midwife Annie Willoughby and gynaecologist Dr Anni Faeling forming an amazing team, “complementing one another seamlessly to reassure me that I was in calm and expert hands”.
The experience of birthing into water, she said, helped her feel at ease and relaxed, and allowed her to manage both the labour pains and the pressure of birthing.
“The transition for Arlo emerging [from the womb] into the water first and then being placed in my arms was incredibly smooth. My baby looked relaxed.”
It was all she had hoped for, said Aimee, and she says she would recommend it to any woman looking for a natural and gentle birthing experience.
Sally Hunder-Madubuko, the women’s health manager at Al Zahra Hospital, told Gulf News that water birthing is also likely to help the mother secrete less stress hormones as the water sensation helps relax the mind and body.
Midwife Willoughby, who has conducted several water births in the UK, told Gulf News: “It was an amazing experience for the mother and all of us assisting her. The environment created for hypnobirth and active birthers is very calming with mood lighting, motivational quotes, birthing balls, stools and ropes to facilitate active labour. The choice to labour in water is available in all four rooms, however, the water birth option is currently only available in one. The pool has integrated Bluetooth and lighting to create the perfect mood for the perfect birth. Placing a pool of water in a birth room changes the atmosphere immediately.”
This kind of birthing, says Willoughby, brings out the dive reflex in a newborn wherein it does not breathe when under water. “The entire experience was beautiful and amazing for the parents and the hospital as well. I would recommend a water birth for any normal, full-term pregnancy provided the mother has no other complications,” she added.
Dr Faeling, a gynaecologist from Dr Nicholas and Asp Clinic, who assisted the water birth, told Gulf News: “Back home in Denmark, water births are the most natural choice for young mothers. I think while it reduces labour pain for the mother, it also appears to be less traumatic and more gentle for the baby to make the transition from the womb into the external environment gently through the medium of water.”
Known benefits of water labour and water birth
Though water birthing is a popular trend among many women in the West, it is important to note that there are preconditions to this option: The mother should be between the ages of 17-35 with a normal full-term pregnancy and no history of gynaecological complications (which could result in distress to the baby).
Dr Amala Khopkar, obstetrician and gynaecologist with the Prime Health Care group, explained why water birthing is still relatively less common in the region. “In conventional labour, it is easier to control the process of birthing as each and every movement can be handled. In case an emergency arises [in water birthing], every minute matters and lifting the mother out of the water can make one lose precious moments as the baby can be in distress.”
Dr Khopkar also feels that the reasons why many women from other cultures prefer conventional birthing methods could be attributed to genetic markers of physiology and body structure. “For example, traditionally, the pelvic bone structure of Asian and African women is narrower as compared to women of Nordic descent, who have a broader pelvis. Also, given the lifestyles today, many mothers are overweight and their babies are also large, in many cases, weighing over three kilos. In the case of a large baby, there is every chance of it getting stuck in the narrow birth canal during birthing, causing fetal distress,” she said.