One of the more unusual practices claimed to be part of "natural" childbirth is waterbirth. Waterbirth is not natural for any primates, does not have historical precedent, and was only invented and used in the last 25-50 years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on the Fetus and Newborn released a comprehensive report last year that waterbirth is not safe for babies. The report, Underwater Births, begins:
Throughout human existence, women have typically given birth to their offspring on land. Over the last 25 years, however, underwater birth has become more popular in certain parts of the world despite a paucity of data demonstrating that it is either beneficial or safe.1–22 Underwater birth occurs either intentionally or accidentally after water immersion for labor, a procedure promoted primarily as a means of decreasing maternal discomfort. A review of the available literature indicates that the risks of underwater birth to the newborn seem to outweigh the benefits, and caution is urged before widespread implementation.After reviewing the existing scientific literature, the committee concludes:
The safety and efficacy of underwater birth for the newborn has not been established. There is no convincing evidence of benefit to the neonate but some concern for serious harm. Therefore, underwater birth should be considered an experimental procedure that should not be performed except within the context of an appropriately designed RCT after informed parental consent.
This piece first appeared on Homebirth Debate in July 2006.