Saturday, May 16, 2015

How to remove toxins and properly bond for a natural, connected waterbirth

By now, you've probably seen Healthy Home Economist's sensationalist article on how waterbirths destroy children's guts and should be avoided. It's fascinating to me, really, because she spends a lot of time focusing on the concern of chlorine/chloramine treated tap water. Which, unless you avoided bathing in this and drinking this from 3 months pre-conception to the time of birth, means you have already altered your baby's microbiome. Why talk about the issue of chlorinated drinking and bathing water, but then blame the water birth after 9+ months of chlorine exposure in food, tap water, bathing, swimming, disposable paper products, etc?

Don't get me wrong. I feel I'm actually one of the few people who has piped up about the severe concern of halogen compound exposure in our environment. I even wrote a little brochure about it, and I have made the tough assertion that several chronic illnesses such as lyme and EDS are caused or worsened by dioxins. I think awareness is lacking, and that halogen compounds are the big kahuna being ignored.

Anyways, that aside, her article prompted me to put together some basics that I've shared about waterbirth before, as a proactive way of preparing for a natural birth that is low in toxins and that promotes physiologically normal bonding.

Here are some of the things I've done to prepare for my births that address halogen compound exposure, contaminant exposure, and bonding concerns:

1. Look for a PVC-free pool. Women are creative when it comes to birth pools. Choose what suits your needs, but take a quick look to make sure it's low in toxins. Same goes for pool liners if you're going to use one. Do not use cheap materials, such as remodeling/paint liners found in hardware stores, industrial containers, or low end animal troughs.

You can also prepare the birth pool if it is new by opening it up and placing it outside in the sunlight (think indirect if you get strong sun, don't damage it!) Spray distilled white vinegar evenly on the surface to help the offgassing. Those new plastic smells should slowly dissipate. Rinse the pool thoroughly before bringing it inside to use.

If you're using a permanent pool such as your jacuzzi or hot tub, research your options for pre-cleaning. You might be able to chemically clean it, then rinse it and fill it with filtered water just for the birth.

2. Purchase a lead-free hose and connectors. Surprisingly, a lot of people don't know about this one. Make sure the hose you buy specifies lead-free. Don't use any cheaper, older or soldered/previously soldered connectors that might also contain questionable ingredients. Another one that might not occur to parents while rushing around during a birth: rinse the hose out first before putting it into the birth pool to remove any manufacturing contaminants.

3. Water treatment. Research the various options on how to treat your water and decide which one will work for you. Boiling water and letting it stand in the birth pool will remove the majority of chlorine/chloramines....into the air. So as the birth pool is being filled and then while it stands for 5-10 minutes, you can labor in another room. Briefly ventilating the birth room after the pool is filled will clear out any concerning air. You can also use portable dechlorinating tabs and filters. And/or a filter that connects to the hose.

Reverse osmosis or steam distillation will remove the most contaminants from your water. You don't have to purchase an expensive whole-house system. Smaller systems can cost $200. But, a smaller undermount or counter top machine will take much longer to fill the pool. A combination of boiling water and filling from the reverse osmosis system can be the most reasonable method.

It's important to note that this issue is one you can certainly address, but it is not a huge, scary issue. The studies discussing chlorine exposure are talking about extended exposure in chlorinated pools. Not bathing or drinking tap water. Although I also easily address this topic in our own home with a reverse osmosis filter and dechlorinating filters for the bath faucets, this is not a deal breaking topic.

Stop and think about the way you are being manipulated to feel when it comes to worrying about waterbirth. How do you think the surfaces in a hospital are cleaned? What products and what water source do you use to clean your bedsheets, your towels, and your home for a land-homebirth? If you're feeling really scared or upset by the HHE article, take a deep breath and do an actual risk assessment, along with reviewing your many options.

Preparing the pvc-free pool with boiled water.
It's also being filled with a lead-free hose and reverse osmosis system.
Placed next to the patio door, the room was quickly and conveniently ventilated.

4. Use additives with caution. If someone is concerned about bacterial growth, standing water, if the pool becomes contaminated in some way, then empty it, clean it and refill it. Do not try to create your own shock treatment with bleach, ammonia, or other chemicals. And that includes essential oils.

I have heard a few accounts now of birth pools being shocked with heavy duty essential oils. Essential oils are wonderful, but also powerful. At high levels, they can also harm healthy gut bacteria. Some of the powerful antibacterial ones are also potentially unsafe for birth and definitely unsafe for newborns.

Also be sure to ventilate the room briefly again if diffusing essential oils for the mama, to ensure that once the baby arrives, he is not exposed. Sniffing direct from the bottle might be the most contained method to use for birth.

5. Avoid interrupting bonding. Although interruption can occur with other birth methods, due to the wet environment and concerns about temperature regulation, these interruptions might be more prominent with waterbirths. And this might also explain why some mothers, such as HHE, feel that waterbirth somehow harmed their children. Ensure that your birth team is educated on how to protect the bonding process after birth in a water environment. This means things such as:

  • Warm unscented towels in the dryer and place them over both the parent and the baby, not between the parent and the baby. 
  • Avoid submerging the baby's body or attempting to wash the baby in the pool.
  • Avoid "hatting" or placing a hat on the baby's head, which might interrupt sensory bonding.
  • Remember to rub in the vernix, and do not roughly scrub the baby dry with a towel.
  • Don't encourage the mom to separate and take a shower with scented products soon after birth. 
  • Don't encourage the baby to get bathed in a separate bath soon after birth, and certainly not with scented products.
  • Avoid scented products on the birth team, and avoid using fragrances and air fresheners during/after the birth. Birth can come with strong smells, like being in the woods. If this is uncomfortable for the birthing mother, opening a window for fresh air is helpful. Don't start misting stuff everywhere! Including essential oils!
Notice the towel is over BOTH mama and baby.
Baby is not submerged.
Mama's chest is not submerged.
6. Remember to stay together. Another reason some moms might attribute waterbirth to problems with breastfeeding is the interruption that occurs soon after birth. Once the baby is born, usually the mom cradles her baby on or near her chest in the birth pool for a few minutes. But, inevitably, they need to get out of the pool. This is when her birth team might unknowingly cause problems. As the mom and baby leave the pool, they must be moved to a safe, calm area where they can remain together and continue the physiological bonding process. The baby should stay in her (or her partner's) arms. No one should remove the baby, wash the baby, dress the baby, or leave the room with the baby. Now is not the time for the mom to spend a long time showering and dressing. If the mom is hungry, food should be brought to her.

There is something about this critical stage that is easily altered without anyone noticing. This golden hour is interrupted in key ways with waterbirths. A good birth supporter must have a trained eye for this moment and take steps to keep the mom and baby together, naked, undisturbed, and prepared for breast exploration and the breast crawl. 

Interruption occurs with other kinds of births. But, the problem here is that the brief time spent in the birth pool is often logged as the bonding time. When it is not. So once the mom leaves the pool, it accidentally represents a transition or milestone, when in reality, it is not and the mom and baby must still continue bonding.

Mama moved right out of the pool and onto
a designated bonding space. No hat, no clothing, no showering.

7. Vernix. Contrary to the fear in HHE's article, vernix is not water-soluble. That would be laughable, seeing as how the baby is submerged in fluids for months. Vernix has immune properties that are very important and I've always shared about that aspect. To claim that waterbirth destroys vernix and makes the neonate susceptible to halogen compound exposure or contaminant exposure is simply not supported by the scientific evidence. This idea shows a lack of understanding when it comes to birthing in water, along with a lack of understanding about vernix.

Vernix has many overlapping functions. It directly assists the baby in countless ways during the pregnancy and during transition from the womb to earthside. (You can read all about vernix here.)

The baby swallows it during pregnancy, which helps to develop the gut microbiome.
It has innate immune properties to help protect the baby.
It is a thermal (temperature) regulating substance.
It encourages proper skin growth.

Most importantly, and the part that seems to be missing in the waterbirth fearmongering:
As a layer on the skin, it provides a hydrophobic barrier. Translation: it is water resistant.
The brief time it takes to gently bring your baby up to your chest after passing through about 18 inches of already offgassed water is not destroying guts and ruining lives. I'm not sure how to put it in a nice way, but that idea is ignorance and total bullshit.

Bottom line: if you are freaking out because you think birthing in water will somehow destroy your child's immune system and breakdown a substance that humans have used successfully for thousands of years, don't. Take a deep breath, go through your preventative checklist with your birth team, and then relax. Waterbirth has some specifics that need to be addressed, but they aren't insurmountable or inherent issues. They are concerns that can be easily rectified ahead of time.

With all the potential benefits of waterbirth such as reduced pain, increased movement, relieving pressure and weight on the mom's joints and ligaments, bonding with her partner and children during birth, etc, it would be a shame if a mom discarded this option out of unwarranted concerns about halogen compounds and a misunderstanding of vernix.

Here comes the baby right out of the water...covered in vernix.
Photo submitted by Hethir Songstad.

It appears that the highly toxic tapwater did
not impede any vernix here!
Photo submitted by Sarah Durso.