Researchers from the University of Michigan say the risk of infection and ICU admissions for newborns, and of postpartum hemmorhage for women, are the same whether a woman gives birth in water, or out of it.
The study, published in the journal Birth, looked at 397 water births, and 2,025 non-water births.
"And what we found is there's no difference in any of those outcomes except that women who gave birth in the water had a lower rate of tears that would require some kind of repair," said Joanne Motiño Bailey, director of nurse-midwives at Michigan Medicine.
In countries like the United Kingdom, it's somewhat common for women to deliver their babies while immersed in a tub. And it's not unheard of here in the U.S. But it is less common, mostly because few hospitals allow it.
Bailey says she hopes that will change.
"My deep hope is that this becomes something routinely available as an option for women who are eligible for a water birth," she said. "We have women that drive from all over the state of Michigan to have a water birth at the University of Michigan because there's nowhere else in the state that would support them."
The American Association of Birth Centers says a recent survey found that 93% of its members offer water birth.
This story has been corrected to clarify that while few hospitals offer water births, most birth centers (typically freestanding and not at hospitals) do.