Liquid relief

Title: Liquid relief.


Water versus an “all or nothing” pain management plan for your labour.


If scientists discovered a pain-relieving substance that was naturally occurring, non-invasive, safe for labouring mothers and their unborn babes, 100% renewable and, above all, cheap to produce; would we not assume that the NHS would jump on it and promote its use in every quarter? If this substance were to be described by medical professionals as possessing more therapeutic qualities than any other single drug on the market, would we not as parents in waiting, expect the knowledge of its pain-relieving qualities to be thrust upon us by ever informative midwives? The fact that this doesn’t happen may lead us to assume that such a substance does not exist and that the only pain relieving agents we can expect to use when in labour are to be found in a canister or a syringe. But wait – before you resign yourselves to an “all or nothing” pain management plan for your labour, this substance does exist and what’s more, has been around since the world began! It has the most recognised formula in the world, is the most common chemical solvent on earth and its powerful force generates mega-watts of electricity globally. It is of course water. “Water’s unique chemical properties make it so complicated that even after decades of research, scientists still have much to learn about this remarkable and versatile substance…. If water behaved like other liquids, it would exist as a gas at the temperatures and pressures found on Earth, and life as we know it couldn’t survive.”

(1) The therapeutic use of water has a long history. Ruins of an ancient bath unearthed in Pakistan date as far back as 4500 B.C. Bathhouses were an essential part of ancient Roman culture. The use of steam, baths, and aromatic massage to promote well being has been documented since the first century and Roman physicians Galen and Celsus wrote of treating patients with warm and cold baths in order to prevent disease.

Just look at what scientists have to say about water: “There is no drug on the market that can rival the number of beneficial physiological effects that water is capable of producing, and it is widely available and cheap. In fact, there are no substances known to man that possess as many remedial and health-promoting qualities as water.”

(2) This article goes on to list many of the qualities attributed to using water. “Hydrotherapy, with its circulating currents, allows for immediate and effective transfer of heat, relaxing tense muscles and increasing blood flow to the tissues. The warmth has a sedative effect on nerve endings and there fore reduces pain and discomfort.”

(3) “The warmth of Hydrotherapy and the massaging effect assists this pain relief, particularly if the pain is muscular in origin or the result of tension. Once an acute phase is over the Hydrotherapy is a useful aid to help with the management of intermittent periods of muscle spasm”.

(4) Although they were not writing specifically with labour in mind, the physiotherapists who compiled this report have described it perfectly: “Intermittent periods of muscle spasm” Having first experienced the powerful pain-relieving effect of water when labouring in the bath with my first child, I was so struck by it’s effect that I went on to have my second and third children at home in water. Given the obvious benefits of hydrotherapy throughout the world in both Eastern and Western cultures I am astounded that maternity services within the NHS have not jumped on this most natural and economical pain-relieving substance. The answer, so I understand is often that the labouring women do not request it.

Throughout the NHS, two of the most commonly spoken words are often: “patient led” This means that instead of the general public playing a passive role in the acquisition of knowledge, one has to be pro-active, know the questions to ask and have the courage to ask them. No easy task when contractions are coming every 5 minutes; which is why expectant parents have to arm themselves with knowledge prior to the life-changing event about to engulf them (which, it has to be said, many may never have experienced before.) How do you know what questions to ask if you have no idea where to begin? Again, no easy task and a task made yet more challenging as the NHS trust cuts parent craft classes in another belt-tightening exercise. The answer? Nature has an uncanny way of providing just what we need (not necessarily what we want). Is it mere coincidence that a clump of dock-leaves will grow right alongside the nettles whose sting they can often soothe? Try asking your midwife to “think outside the box” or rather to look outside the birthing room – there may be a mysterious scientifically baffling liquid with remarkable, tried and tested pain-relieving effects, just waiting to be utilised! Or to put it another way: Ask her to run you a bath!


Kate Lamb


Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of The Federation of Antenatal Educators (FEDANT) unless specifically stated.

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