How do babies not drown in tub births?

Birth is a miraculous process, and for some parents, choosing to give birth in a tub or a water birth may seem both appealing and relaxing. However, concerns about the safety of the baby and the possibility of drowning during a tub birth are valid. This article aims to shed light on this topic and provide a better understanding of how babies are protected from drowning during tub births.

The Natural Protective Mechanisms

Nature has intelligently equipped babies with several involuntary reflexes that play a vital role in ensuring their safety during water births. These mechanisms include the dive reflex, which automatically kicks in when a baby’s face comes into contact with water.

The dive reflex initiates an instinctive response, where the baby holds their breath, the heart rate slows down, and blood is redirected to vital organs, ensuring a continuous oxygen supply. This reflex is present in all newborns up until about six months of age, providing a natural protective mechanism against accidental drowning during tub births.

Midwife Assistance and Vigilance

During tub births, having a skilled and experienced midwife present is crucial to ensuring the safety of both the mother and the baby. Midwives undergo specialized training to manage various aspects of water births, including monitoring the baby’s well-being throughout the process.

Midwives use waterproof Doppler devices or fetoscopes to intermittently check the baby’s heart rate during contractions. They are trained to identify any signs of distress or complications promptly. If any concerns arise, the midwife will take appropriate action, including suggesting a change in position, monitoring the progress more closely, or even recommending transferring to a hospital if necessary.

Proper Preparation and Hygiene

Before planning a tub birth, proper preparation and hygiene measures should be taken to minimize any potential risks. The tub should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to ensure a sterile environment for both the mother and the baby.

It is crucial to maintain water temperature within a specific range to keep the baby comfortable and safe. Ideally, the water temperature should be around 37°C (98.6°F), resembling the mother’s body temperature. This helps prevent any sudden temperature changes that might stress the baby’s system or increase the risk of respiratory distress.

Additionally, the tub should have an appropriate size that allows the mother to be partially or fully immersed, keeping her buoyant and relaxed. This ensures that she can easily change positions and find a comfortable one during labor and delivery, minimizing any potential strain on the baby.

Understanding Water Depth and Monitoring

The depth of the water is another crucial factor to consider during a tub birth. It is recommended to maintain an appropriate water depth to ensure both the safety of the baby and the ability of the midwife to closely monitor the mother’s progress.

Typically, the water depth should be around 20-22 inches (50-55 centimeters), allowing the mother to be in a semi-reclined position that eases the birthing process while keeping the baby’s head safely above the water. This helps prevent the risk of accidental submersion or inhaling water during contractions.

The midwife will closely observe the baby’s position and movements throughout labor and delivery. If necessary, they may suggest changing positions or using certain techniques to ensure the baby’s safety and to facilitate a smooth birthing process.


Tub births can be a safe and serene option for delivering a baby, provided that proper precautions and guidelines are followed. The natural protective mechanisms present in newborns, the assistance and vigilance of skilled midwives, proper preparation and hygiene, as well as maintaining appropriate water depth, all contribute to ensuring the baby’s safety during tub births. By understanding these elements and making informed decisions, parents can confidently embrace the experience of a water birth while keeping their baby protected from any potential risks.

In conclusion, the risk of drowning during a tub birth is minimal, thanks to the remarkable protective mechanisms that babies possess and the expertise provided by certified midwives. By nurturing an educated approach and considering safety precautions, parents can enjoy the benefits of a water birth experience with peace of mind.

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