Water is the source of life. The benefits of being in the water have been recognized for centuries in many world cultures. Recently in the United States there has been increased awareness of the healing benefits of water. These benefits of being in the water during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are many for both mom and baby.
Being in the water during pregnancy helps women experience a sense of weightlessness. It’s wonderfully soothing for those who have just given birth. Even infants can benefit from being in the water by experiencing complete freedom of movement.
International childbirth pioneer Michel Odent says this during pregnancy:
“Many women develop an enhanced capacity to rediscover forgotten aspects of human nature. Via their strong attraction to water, many pregnant and laboring women tell us that Homo sapiens is a more aquatic primate than it is usually believed.”
There are many ways mothers can benefit from being in the water during pregnancy, labor and birth.
They experience comfort and reawaken their instincts as they become parents. We highlight just a few below.
Soaks and Baths
Baths can soothe sore muscles and promote relaxation. Doctors often recommend them during pregnancy, as long as the water isn’t too hot. Ideally the body temperature should stay below 102.2°F (39°C). Soaking in a spacious hot tub can be a great opportunity to relax with a partner or friends. Since hot tubs are commonly 104°F (40°C), check with your physician first, and soak for only limited amounts of time.
In our modern culture, there has been a renewed discovery of our ancestral affinity to being in the water during labor. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that women who relax in a warm tub or shallow pool during early labor tend to use less epidural analgesia than those who do not. Women who immerse in water while laboring tend to have a shorter labor.
Although being in the water during labor doesn’t eliminate pain, it helps change the perception of pain. It also allows mothers to connect with their inner rhythms. Being in the water during birth also provides advantages for the baby. They experience a more gentle transition as they uncurl from the confined space of the womb into the unboundedness of water.
After birth, a parent can reintroduce their baby to water at any time once the umbilical wound heals. A daily home bath in a full-size tub allows greater freedom of movement. A parent and child may increase their connection by bathing together. If circumstances don’t allow for a shared bath, it’s recommended to use a wide baby tub with no sling or seat support. Parent can use their hands to support their baby, who may be reminded of the womb while floating in this cozy and warm environment. It may take some practice, but babies soon enjoy being floated, feeling the connection, and the very needed freedom of movement.
Francoise Barbira Freedman developed Aqua Yoga for pregnancy by adapting classic yoga postures to the water. Aqua Yoga’s poses, movements, and swimming techniques may help the pelvis to open during pregnancy. This practice of being in the water during pregnancy also fosters a breathing awareness, eases aches and pains, and supports connection with the growing baby. These all aid in birth preparation. As with traditional yoga, Aqua Yoga can also amplify a sense connection between expectant parents.
After birth, Aqua Yoga exercises can help realign and “close” the body from its opening. Being in the water during postpartum is uniquely healing for the perineum. It’s also a good medium in which to tone the pelvic floor muscles and strengthen the back muscles. Breathing remains an essential aspect of postpartum Aqua Yoga.
Throughout pregnancy, swimming can help open the pelvis, stretch the whole body, elongate the spine, and expand breathing capacity. The focus is not on swimming speed but on maximum relaxed stretching, full use of breath, and a symmetrical use of joints and muscles.
It has been said that children who are initiated into the water early display a greater than normal degree of independence and confidence in themselves as they grow older. Igor Tzarkovski, researcher, visionary, and pioneer of baby swimming, theorized that we must learn to live in our element of origin—water—in order to develop our full potential. In turn, he suggests, this opens up new prospects for human life on Earth.
Watsu® (WaterShiatsu) is a complementary therapeutic massage treatment administered in warm water at about 96°F (36°C). Based in Shiatsu massage, it includes acupressure, assisted stretching, and joint manipulation. A trained practitioner gently and safely floats the receiver, massaging and moving them rhythmically. The sense of weightlessness in warm water helps to decompress the spine, loosen joints, and relax the nervous and musculo-skeletal systems.
Watsu® is an ideal wellness practice during pregnancy because it allows safe stretching and lengthening. This can ultimately improve comfort and confidence during labor and recovery. A 2015 Swiss study investigating the use of Watsu during pregnancy showed the safety and significant positive effects of this treatment. Participants experienced less pregnancy-related back pain, greater relaxation of uterine muscles, improved overall sense of well-being, and a deepened relationship with their unborn child.
During the postpartum recovery, Watsu® can be equally beneficial to support the many adjustments to parenthood. Watsu® fosters many things:
- Stress reduction
- Pain relief
- Hormone regulation
- Reduced swelling
- Better sleep
- Improved breastfeeding.
Watsu® can help restore and rebalance the body and assist with healing following birth.
And it’s not just for moms! Watsu® also offers a safe environment for infants to move freely and to relax deeply. Based in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this holistic bodywork affects all the systems of the body: skin, muscles, bones, internal organs, and the nervous system. Watsu® supports the emotional needs of your growing child. It treats common ailments by strengthening the immune system, and stimulates balanced and healthy growth.
The therapeutic use of being in the water during the childbearing year has been on the rise over the past few decades for healing body, mind, and spirit.
From soaking, to receiving aquatic bodywork for pain relief and relaxation, to swimming, to giving birth, to doing Aqua Yoga to prepare for and recover from birth, parents and infants can benefit greatly from spending as much time as they can in the water.
“In water, the body finds the freedom the soul has lost.” – Ancient Egyptian proverb
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victor is a former physical therapist from Spain, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) in Oregon, a Watsu® practitioner under the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association, and founder of Aqua4Life Watsu Portland. He has been a Montessori and Waldorf teacher, as well as an RIE advocate. Becoming a father in 2010 uncovered his passion for the power of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. He continues to deepen his understanding of these realms alongside his wife, a full-spectrum doula, and offers his skillful presence during pre- and post-natal Watsu® sessions. When not in the pool, Victor enjoys spending time with his wife and three children in nature, cooking community meals, tending gardens, and dancing. It is his most sincere belief that we can make this world a better place by better caring for parents and children during pregnancy and birth.
Victor Barreda Pazos
OR LMT #22189