A retrospective comparison of waterbirth outcomes in two United States hospital settings

Joanne M. Bailey, Ruth E. Zielinski, Cathy L. Emeis, Lisa Kane Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Water immersion during labor is an effective comfort measure; however, outcomes for waterbirth in the hospital setting have not been well documented. Our objective was to report the outcomes from two nurse-midwifery services that provide waterbirth within a tertiary care hospital setting in the United States. Methods: This study is a retrospective, observational, matched comparison design. Data were collected from two large midwifery practices in tertiary care centers using information recorded at the time of birth for quality assurance purposes. Land birth cases were excluded if events would have precluded them from waterbirth (epidural, meconium stained fluid, chorioamnionitis, estimated gestational age < 37 weeks, or body mass index > 40). Neonatal outcomes included Apgar score and admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. Maternal outcomes included perineal lacerations and postpartum hemorrhage. Results: A total of 397 waterbirths and 2025 land births were included in the analysis. There were no differences in outcomes between waterbirth and land birth for Apgar scores or neonatal intensive care admissions (1.8% vs 2.5%). Women in the waterbirth group were less likely to sustain a first- or second-degree laceration. Postpartum hemorrhage rates were similar for both groups. Similar results were obtained using a land birth subset matched on insurance, hospital location, and parity using propensity scores. Discussion: In this study, waterbirth was not associated with increased risk to neonates, extensive perineal lacerations, or postpartum hemorrhage. Fewer women in the waterbirth group sustained first- or second-degree lacerations requiring sutures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-104
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • hydrotherapy
  • low risk maternity care
  • maternal and neonatal outcomes
  • midwifery
  • physiologic birth
  • waterbirth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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