Systematic Review of Hydrotherapy Research: Does a Warm Bath in Labor Promote Normal Physiologic Childbirth?

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Abstract

Health sciences research was systematically reviewed to assess randomized controlled trials of standard care versus immersion hydrotherapy in labor before conventional childbirth. Seven studies of 2615 women were included. Six trials examined hydrotherapy in midwifery care and found an effect of pain relief; of these, 2 examined analgesia and found reduced use among women who bathed in labor. One study each found that hydrotherapy reduced maternal anxiety and fetal malpresentation, increased maternal satisfaction with movement and privacy, and resulted in cervical dilation progress equivalent to standard labor augmentation practices. Studies examined more than 30 fetal and neonatal outcomes, and no benefit or harm of hydrotherapy was identified. Two trials had anomalous findings of increased newborn resuscitation or nursery admission after hydrotherapy, which were not supported by additional results in the same or other studies. Review findings demonstrate that intrapartum immersion hydrotherapy is a helpful and benign practice. Hydrotherapy facilitates physiologic childbirth and may increase satisfaction with care. Maternity care providers are recommended to include hydrotherapy among routine labor pain management options and consider immersion to promote progress of normal or protracted labor, particularly among women with preferences to avoid obstetric medications and procedures.

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