Have you ever noticed how wonderful it feels to soak in a tub of warm water when you're tense or in pain? The same is true during labor. In fact, studies have found significant benefits to laboring in water. Sitting in warm water or standing in a warm shower lets your muscles relax and decreases the pain of labor contractions. Water therapy (hydrotherapy) also can help your uterus work more efficiently: Some studies have shown that labor progresses faster when women are in water. Warm water can also help to lower your blood pressure if it's elevated.
Water therapy is now encouraged by many health care providers, but this wasn't always the case. For years women in the United States were confined to bed during labor. Today, many hospitals and birthing centers are trying to catch up with this change in attitude. They are building new women's birthing centers or redesigning old units to include a Jacuzzi tub or shower in each birthing room.
As long as your labor is proceeding normally, it's safe to be in water. Your progress and your baby's heartbeat can still be monitored. If your birthing room has a shower, you can sit or lean against the wall with a pulsating spray directed toward your lower back or abdomen. If your room has a Jacuzzi tub, you can recline in the warm, bubbling water. The buoyancy and warmth of the water will lessen any discomfort you're feeling. You can just succumb to the soothing effects of the water, or you can practice your relaxation and breathing techniques at the same time. (Bring a bath pillow with you so you can lean your head back comfortably.)
Your labor partner can join you, too. He can sit in a chair next to the shower or tub, or he can get in with you if there's enough room. In this case, your partner might want to bring along a swimsuit. You won't be able to wear a swimsuit yourself, but if you're self-conscious about being undressed, you can keep on your hospital gown while in the tub or shower.
Spending time in a shower or tub during labor does not mean that you will give birth in the water. Most caregivers will ask that you get out of the tub before the baby is born, even though you may wish you could stay there the entire time!
When you take your hospital tour, find out if you'll have access to a shower or tub, and if you think you'd like to use this comfort measure during labor, let your caregivers know.