Water birth

If you’ve decided you want a water birth but you’re unsure how to plan it, here’s how you arrange to get a birthing pool and prepare yourself for using it.

Many women are interested in the idea, but anxious that a pool will not be available, and so miss out on planning a water birth. But there is a way – you can use one on the NHS, hire one or buy one. Here’s how to get a birthing pool and how to prepare yourself for using it.

1. How to find out about NHS birthing pools, or hire one or even buy one

Pools have become more popular so that means midwife-led units and obstetric units have more of them, hooray.  Some NHS trusts have pools and your midwife will tell you how many are available locally. You could also look at your local hospital trust’s website to find out which local NHS units have pools. The website Which? Birth Choice can show your options too. 

The only snag is that you cannot book hospital and midwife-led centre birthing pools in advance with your midwife. In any case, it’s a good idea to say to them you’re hoping to use one when you contact the midwife when you go into labour.

An organisation that might have pools they can lend or hire to you includes your local Positive Birth Movement group.

If it comes to buying one, several companies hire or sell birth pools and you can find them easily on the internet.

2. You can use a birthing pool at home

It’s a little more than a paddling pool and you’d be right in thinking it involves more than sploshing some water in there and hoping for the best. You’ll need to read the information that the pool provider gives you about how to use their particular pool.

Something to remember is that pools should not be left filled and heated before labour starts as it’d be a possible infection risk (Public Health England, 2014). See our article about how to labour in water or have a water birth for more about what to do when things get started. NICE guidelines say that midwives monitor the temperature of pool hourly to make sure the water temperature does not go above 37.5°C (NICE, 2014).

3. Preparing to use a pool in hospital or a birth centre

All staff are trained to use the pool, so try not to worry. If you are nervous about using the pool, you could ask about how your midwife’s training would support you if you need it. You could also ask about equipment like hoists (to remove an unwell woman from the pool) and telemetry (wireless monitoring).

Pools are cleaned between each woman so they’ll be spick and span by the time you get in there.

If a pool is not available your labour room, you are likely to have either a shower or bath that you can use for labour.

4. What you could wear for labouring in water

  • Some women prefer to be naked during labour.
  • Some women choose to wear a T-shirt, crop top, or bikini top.  Some will keep knickers on during labour until near the end, and others take them off when they get into the water. When the baby is born, women will be encouraged to put their baby on them skin-to-skin, so this might mean taking off a T-shirt at that point. 
  • Dry clothes for when you get out of the water.
  • Towels for when you get out.

5. What you might want for a water birth

  • A jug to pour water over the bump or back.
  • Something to pad the floor of the pool, or to lean on in the water or over the side of the pool.
  • Birth supports like straws, massage aids, music and a helpful birth partner.

6. How your NCT antenatal course can help you to prepare

Going to an NCT antenatal course will help to prepare you for the different ways of working with pain in labour. The teacher will talk about water births in more or less depth depending on the course length, what the women attending need and pool availability in your area. They are likely to direct you to sources of information about what birth pools are available at local NHS trusts, and gain an understanding of water as a form of pain relief.

Some areas offer NCT Waterbirth Workshops. These workshops can give you a more in-depth exploration of water births, sometimes with an inflatable birth pool to try out.

This page was last reviewed in March 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about pregnancy, labour and life with a new baby.

You could take a look at AIMS for support finding your way through the maternity services system.

If you want support with or to make your voice heard about the maternity service you are receiving, you can contact Maternity Voices Partnerships (MVP).

To view and compare your maternity options locally, you can look at the Which? Birth Choice website.

NICE. (2014) CG190 Intrapartum care. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/recommendations#timing-of-regional-analgesia [Accessed 13th November 2018]

Public Health England (2014) Patient safety alert: Legionella and heated birthing pools filled in advance of labour in home settings. Available at:  https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/psa-legionella-birth-pool.pdf [Accessed 4th March 2019]

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