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Water birth study by School of Nursing researcher drawing international attention
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Lauren Powers
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Emory University School of Nursing assistant professor Priscilla Hall, PhD, contributed to a recent meta-analysis study on water births that is gaining far-reaching recognition. The study shows that water births provide clear benefits for mothers and their babies, with fewer complications than standard care methods. The new research involving Hall is receiving significant attention from medical professionals and media sources such as “Good Morning America.”

Water birth is when a woman in labor gives birth in a deep bath or birthing pool. The newborn starts breathing as soon as his or her face emerges from the surface of the water. Water birth is relatively uncommon in the United States, and is considered an alternative care modality, despite being an intervention that is safe and valuable to birthing women. The reasons for the lack of availability of this intervention are complex, but one contributing factor is a lack of information about water birth safety in medical education.

“This makes the intervention feel foreign to physicians and facilitates the assumption that water birth is an alternative form of care primarily for midwifery patients in out of hospital settings,” Hall says. “This meta-analysis study was focused mostly on hospital-based care, the setting where physicians provide care and where 98% of U.S. births happen. The study’s focus on the hospital setting made it meaningful to physicians and gave it broader attention.”

The study was done in collaboration with researchers from Oxford Brookes University, with Ethel Burns, PhD, as primary investigator, Jennifer Vanderlaan, PhD, from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Claire Feeley, PhD, from King’s College in London. A synthesis of the available evidence led the team to conclude that water births in an obstetric setting have numerous benefits, including lower pain levels and reduced heavy bleeding in labor. The study also showed that waterbirths lead to higher satisfaction levels for mothers and improved odds of avoiding perineal tears or lacerations.

The Royal College of Midwives expressed support for the study, stating, “Research showing the safety and positive benefits for women having a water birth has been welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives. The research showed that women having a water birth in a hospital obstetric unit had fewer medical interventions and complications during and after the birth.”

This meta-analysis research confirms that water births are safe for women, and Hall hopes that medical professionals will consider the intervention as a viable option for all low-risk women, regardless of the birth setting.

“I would like to see water tubs in every hospital. The research shows that water births are safe to offer as a birthing modality. I am hopeful that the attention this study receives will move things in that direction.”

For more information about this study, click here.

About the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing  

Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing produces nurse leaders who are transforming healthcare through science, education, practice, and policy. Graduates go on to become national and international leaders in patient care, public health, government, research, and education. Others become qualified to seek certification as nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives. The doctor of nurse practice (DNP) program trains nurse anesthetists and advanced leaders in healthcare administration. The school also maintains a PhD program in partnership with Emory's Laney Graduate School. For more information, visit  

About Priscilla Hall, PhD

Hall lectures in the areas of maternal child nursing and midwifery and works in the maternity simulation lab at the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. She received her PhD from Emory’s Laney Graduate School, where she received the Silver Bowl Award for outstanding work as a PhD candidate. Her dissertation was titled: “Keeping it together and falling apart: women’s experiences of childbirth.” Prior to her academic work, Hall was in clinical practice as a nurse midwife, and she is currently engaged in midwifery practice in the homebirth setting.

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