Background: Current forms of analgesia often have significant side effects for women in labor. Bathing in warm water during labor has been reported to increase a woman's comfort level and cause a reduction in painful contractions. The objective of this trial was to compare immersion in warm water during labor with traditional pain management for a range of clinical and psychological outcomes.
Methods: A prospective randomized controlled trial of 274 pregnant women, who were free from medical and obstetric complications and expecting a singleton pregnancy at term, was conducted at the Women's and Children's Hospital, a maternity tertiary referral center in Adelaide, South Australia. Women in labor were randomized to an experimental group who received immersion in a bath or to a nonbath group who received routine care. Pharmacological pain relief was the primary outcome that was measured, and secondary outcomes included maternal and neonatal clinical outcomes, factors relating to maternal and neonatal infectious morbidity, psychological outcomes, and satisfaction with care.
Results: The use of pharmacological analgesia was similar for both the experimental and control groups; 85 and 77 percent, respectively, used major analgesia. No statistical differences were observed in the proportion of women requiring induction and augmentation of labor or in rates of perineal trauma, length of labor, mode of delivery, or frequency of cardiotocographic trace abnormalities. Neonatal outcomes (birthweight, Apgar score, nursery care, meconium-stained liquor, cord pH estimations) revealed no statistically significant differences. Infants of bath group women required significantly more resuscitation than routine group women. Routine group women rated their overall experience of childbirth more positively than bath group women. Psychological outcomes, such as satisfaction with care or postnatal distress, were the same for both groups.
Conclusion: Bathing in labor confers no clear benefits for the laboring woman but may contribute to adverse effects in the neonate.