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New research grant for establishing the safety of waterbirths

20 April 2018

Mother and newborn baby

Professor Julia Sanders has been awarded £900,000 to lead a study exploring the safety of waterbirth for mothers and babies.

Over the past couple of decades giving birth in water has become increasingly popular in the UK.  Many women now use a birth pool during labour for pain relief, and some, perhaps up to 60,000 women a year in the UK, choose to remain in the pool for the birth of their baby.

Many professionals and parents have strong opinions on waterbirth. Some are great advocates, who promote the benefits of waterbirth, whilst others remain concerned that women who give birth in water may be exposing themselves or their baby to additional unnecessary risks.

Julia Sanders, Professor of Clinical Nursing and Midwifery, who works jointly between the School of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University and Cardiff & Vale University Health Board said: “Most maternity units in the UK now offer waterbirth as an option to women, but to date there have not been studies large enough to show whether waterbirth is as safe for mothers and babies as using a pool for pain relief during labour, but then getting out of the pool before birth.

The POOL study plans to answer this important question about the safety of waterbirths. The study will include data from births during the six year period 2015-2020 in around 30 NHS maternity units, and compare the outcomes from 15,000 waterbirths with 15,000 births that took place out of water.

Cardiff based Consultant Midwife Abi Holmes, one of the grant’s co-applicants explained: “It is important this study is conducted without disturbing women in labour or just after birth, for this reason the study will use information collected as part of each woman’s maternity record stored at hospitals in computerised systems. For babies that need specialist care after birth, the study will also use data held by the National Neonatal Research Database.”

The Royal College of Midwives Professor of Midwifery, Billie Hunter, who will lead the area of the study exploring why some maternity units have higher rates of waterbirths than others said: “Having a baby is always a special time and parents want information to make the best choices for themselves and their baby. This important study brings together leaders in midwifery, obstetrics, neonatology, and together with staff from Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research, and the NCT who represent parents, we will produce new information on waterbirth so future parents can be better informed on their birth options.”

The study is being funded by the NIHR HTA, project 16/149/01 - The POOL Study.

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