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What is hydrotherapy, and how can it help during labor?

Hydrotherapy can help relieve discomfort during childbirth. We asked Heather Jelinek, a certified nurse-midwife at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, to tell us more.
Hydrotherapy can help relieve pain and discomfort during labor. The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital offers this option for moms.

No matter whether you’re relieving sore muscles after a workout or just relaxing after a long day, soaking a tub of warm water can be a therapeutic experience.

That same technique—warm water immersion—can be very helpful during labor as well. That’s why women who choose to deliver their babies at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital have access to hydrotherapy tubs in every labor and delivery room.

We asked Certified Nurse-Midwife Heather Jelinek, DNP, CNM, to tell us more about hydrotherapy and its benefits during childbirth.

Experience all we have to offer. Schedule a free tour of The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital today!

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is immersion in warm water during labor. It can be used during any part of labor, including early labor and active labor, as well as the late (“pushing”) phase. Hydrotherapy is offered as a comfort measure, providing relaxation and pain relief.

Hydrotherapy is different from a water birth. During a water birth, the baby is delivered underwater in a special waterbirth tub. Hydrotherapy, on the other hand, is used during labor—but not during the delivery. However, The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital supports water birth. Women who are good candidates for this delivery method can pair hydrotherapy and water birth together to create a seamless experience during their labor and delivery.

According to the most recent Listening to Mothers survey, a national survey of women’s childbearing experiences, women who used hydrotherapy reported that it was more effective at relieving the pain and discomfort of labor than opioids like morphine and fentanyl. The survey also reported that hydrotherapy relieved anxiety during labor.

How is hydrotherapy beneficial during childbirth?

“Hydrotherapy can help women cope with labor pain and avoid medical interventions during labor,” said Certified Nurse-Midwife Heather Jelinek, DNP, CNM. “What I’ve noticed from watching women labor in the tub is that they appear to be in less pain during the contractions and are more relaxed between contractions.”

Hydrotherapy is safe for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies. Women who wish to avoid epidurals, opioids or other interventions during childbirth may want to consider hydrotherapy as part of their birthing plan.

“Hydrotherapy works so well for some women, that the pain relief is like night and day,” Jelinek said.

The technique can also help move labor along. Physical movement like walking or changing position can help labor progress. Women who use hydrotherapy often find it easier to move around because they are buoyant in a tub. Hydrotherapy is also easily reversible: If the technique doesn’t prove to be effective for a woman in labor, she can get out and choose a different comfort option.

Learn more about birthing options and amenities at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

What else should I know?

Some women choose to use hydrotherapy when they are in early labor so that they can stay home until they enter labor’s active phase, Jelinek said. Women who choose hydrotherapy in the hospital stay in the tub for an average of two-and-a-half hours.

In a position statement on hydrotherapy during labor and birth, the American College of Nurse-Midwives concludes that, “Warm water immersion hydrotherapy during labor provides comfort, supports relaxation, and is a safe and effective non-pharmacologic pain relief strategy that promotes physiologic childbirth.”

The Birthplace offers an array of amenities, in a beautiful and soothing environment, supported by top providers with unmatched expertise. Hydrotherapy is one of the ways we support women in their birth choices, helping them to have the birth experience they want.