Opting for a natural child birth without medication, the Anniston resident for several hours was in extreme discomfort.
“I couldn’t get comfortable in the bed and it hurt to walk,” Dunaway said.
Then her doctor suggested Dunaway try a technique known as water birth. After sliding into an inflatable tub filled with warm water, Dunaway’s situation improved.
“Gradually I felt better … for me it helped with the pain,” Dunaway said.
After an hour and a half of relaxing in the tub, Dunway moved with a nurse’s help to a bed to complete the delivery. Soon afterward, Jace was born and mother and son have been well ever since.
Dunaway was the first mother to use the Anniston hospital’s new water birth procedure – a pain-relieving technique that is gaining popularity but is still rarely used in hospitals, particularly those in the South, experts say.
Dr. Joshua Johannson, who performed water births for years in Philadelphia, brought the procedure to RMC after moving with his wife to Anniston. Johannson said he currently has five patients signed up for the procedure.
“I think this is just another way of catering to women’s diverse needs,” Johannson said. “We’re offering a more patient-oriented way of labor delivery and don’t just funnel you into the system.”
While some mothers actually give birth in water during water births, most water birth procedures are not performed that way, Johannson said. RMC currently does not allow mothers to give birth in water.
“There are some places that do that … but the places where they do it, most women like moving and getting up and don’t necessarily deliver in the water,” Johannson said.
Johannson said the only real reason to put an expecting mother in a water-filled tub is to help relieve pain in lieu of pain medication.
“It helps them deal with contractions and they feel more comfortable in the pool,” he said. “And there are no side effects to water.”
And at RMC, the technique does not cost any more than a standard birth and is covered by insurance.
Jessica Ledbetter, an RMC registered nurse who helped deliver Dunaway’s baby, said the mother has to be in active labor before she is placed in the tub.
“We try to listen to the baby periodically while in the tub … and you can sit in any position you want,” Ledbetter said. “It’s very different and really neat.”
According to the American Pregnancy Association, though water birthing has been in use for 30 years, there has been little research on the risks of having a baby underwater. As such, many hospitals are reluctant to perform the procedure, even when it does not involve delivering a baby underwater, such as at RMC.
“This is a big step,” Johannson said.
However, there is evidence the technique does help relieve pain for the mother.
Brad Imler, president of the American Pregnancy Association, agreed that the procedure is still not widely used in the United States and is mainly performed at mothers’ homes.
“But hospitals are now starting to integrate it into their services,” Imler said.
As for the benefits, mothers have stated that water births are soothing and relaxing and help them work through the labor, Imler said.
“It affects her buoyancy, so it makes it easier to deal with the weight she has gained,” Imler said. “And there are reports of it lowering high blood pressure, particularly in relieving stress and anxiety.”
Emily Henderson of Jacksonville is six months pregnant with her first child and is looking forward to undergoing the water birth procedure.
“I had always said that if I had a baby, I would do it, but I thought it was just in your home,” Henderson said.
A gymnast and track runner at Jacksonville State University, the endurance test of giving birth naturally without medication appeals to her, Henderson said.
“I think it’s more of an accomplishment thing since I’m an athlete,” Henderson said with a laugh. “And it’s better for the baby.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.