Many women consider labor and delivery as a fairly straightforward, routine process: Once labor begins, you report to the hospital and opt for either a vaginal delivery via natural childbirth or an epidural. Caesareans are also commonplace. In recent years, however, expectant mothers have been seeking alternative birthing options to promote gentler options for baby and themselves.
First-time mom Lara Stachler, 30, of Evergreen Park, knew early in her pregnancy she wanted to veer from conventional childbirth methods by utilizing a midwife and laboring in delivering her baby in water.
“My husband and I wanted to work with a midwife. I like all the support and individualized attention they give their patients. And I wanted a water birth. I consider warm water very relaxing and I knew it would help me get through the process,” Stachler said.
Mary Kay Burke, certified nurse midwife at Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers, is not surprised Stachler and many other women are choosing hydrotherapy or water births. “Laboring in warm water eases pain and helps women move around better. The water creates buoyancy which can help a woman shift positions easier and get more comfortable. It promote more efficient uterine contractions and better blood circulation,” Burke said.
When Stachler found out she was pregnant, she started looking for a midwife who could provide a hydrotherapy option.
“Early in my pregnancy I worked with a midwife in Oak Park and had plans to deliver at a birthing center there. I chose that location because I couldn’t find someone or a facility in the south suburbs. As time went on, it got difficult to make that trek. I really wanted to be closer to home,” Stachler recalled.
By luck, Stachler’s sister-in-law was also pregnant and found a midwife that was covered by her insurance. That midwife turned out to be Burke.
“I was so excited to find Mary Kay. It turned out she works at nearby Little Company of Mary Hospital and even lives by me. I switched over to her right after I met her. She was great and provided the excellent care I was looking for,” Stachler said.
Someone being there
Burke, who was a labor and delivery nurse at Little Company of Mary for 15 years prior to transitioning to being a midwife, said Little Company is the first area hospital in the Southland to offer women alternative birthing approaches. And at the time, Stachler would be the first patient to use the new hydrotherapy tub at the hospital.
Choosing a midwife is an increasing trend for pregnant women. Burke says women like idea of someone being there throughout the entire process.
“It’s more of a hands-on process. We spend more time with our patients in the frequency and duration of the visits and then I’m with them through the entire labor and delivery process,” Burke noted.
Through holistic approaches, midwives are being credited for lowering the C-section rate, which is at an all-time high of 34 percent. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, births attended by midwives typically have fewer interventions such as continuous electronic fetal monitoring, epidurals and episiotomies without any difference in outcomes for women or their babies. Burke noted episiotomy rates are significantly lower with water births than in conventional bed births.
At the onset of active labor, Stachler and her husband Daniel met Burke at the hospital to get ready for the new arrival. Stachler remembers there was a lot of excitement amongst the hospital nurses since she was the first mother to utilize hydrotherapy at the hospital.
Burke described the tub as approximately two feet high by six feet across with a water temperature consistently regulated between 97 to 100 degrees, which tends to be the most comfortable temperature for the moms.
”My contractions were getting stronger and more painful but the tub really took the edge off. The warm water helped me move around and relaxed me,” Stachler explained.
The only complication Stachler experienced was dehydration, which was quickly remedied by replenishing her fluids.
Just before she was going to start pushing, Stachler decided to deliver in bed.
“I had been in the tub for approximately six to seven hours. At that point I just wanted to lie down,” Stachler said.
On March 6, 2012, Oliver Glen Stachler was born weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces.
“Laboring in the tub was a great experience. I can’t even imagine having a baby any other way. And my recovery has been so much easier because I was in the water for so long,” Stachler said.
“Sometimes a woman will labor and deliver in the tub, or they may decide they want to deliver in bed,” Burke said. “Maybe they’ll change their mind and want pain medication. It’s important to be flexible. My role is to be supportive and give my patients options that will best suit them and their baby.”
Burke says a new sanitary tub liner is used for each birth and the process is very clean and safe for the baby.
“Babies will not aspirate in the water; they have a natural dive reflex,” she said. “It’s very soothing for them to enter the warm water. And there is no increased risk of infection. Any bacteria dissipates in the warm water … They are just beautiful births.”