Am J Perinatol
DOI: 10.1055/s-0043-1764145
Review Article

Waterbirth: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Sara Edwards
1   Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Illinois Hospital, Chicago, Illinois
Ana M. Angarita
2   Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sahithi Talasila
3   Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Vincenzo Berghella
2   Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
› Author Affiliations
Funding None.


Despite patient interest, there is little evidence regarding waterbirth. This review sought to compare maternal and perinatal outcomes in waterbirth, compared with landbirth. This search was conducted using MEDLINE, Google Scholar, Web of Sciences, Scopus,, OVID, and Cochrane Library from inception to November 15, 2021, with no language or geographic restrictions. Review was registered with PROSPERO under registration number: CRD42021288576. Selection criteria included randomized controlled trials of women with singleton cephalic gestations at ≥36 weeks comparing waterbirth to landbirth. The primary outcome was a perinatal composite outcome. Secondary outcomes included maternal and individual perinatal outcomes. Summary measures were reported as relative risk or mean difference with 95% confidence intervals using random effects model of DerSimonian and Laird. I 2 (Higgins I 2) > 0% was used to identify heterogeneity. Six trials including 706 patients were included. When reported, all patients were ≥ 37 weeks' gestation. Labor augmentation (41.7 vs. 84.7%, p < 0.0001) and neuraxial anesthesia (10.5 vs. 72.4%, p < 0.0001) were less common with waterbirth. Estimated blood loss, postpartum hemorrhage, perineal laceration, episiotomy, mode of delivery, and perinatal outcomes did not differ between groups. Chorioamnionitis and endometritis were not reported by any trial. Maternal satisfaction was higher (p = 0.01) and pain scores lower (p = 0.003) with waterbirth. Length of first stage (p < 0.00001), third stage (p = 0.02), and labor (p = 0.04) were shorter with waterbirth. The composite perinatal outcome could not be calculated due to lack of individual patient data. Compared with landbirth, waterbirth was associated with lower rates of neuraxial anesthesia and lower pain scores, with improved maternal satisfaction.

Key Points

  • Data are limited regarding the safety and potential benefits of waterbirth.

  • With waterbirth, maternal satisfaction was higher and pain scores lower. The first and third stages of labor and labor overall were shorter. No significant differences noted in other maternal outcomes, such as hemorrhage or laceration.

  • Insufficient data are available regarding neonatal outcomes.

Publication History

Received: 23 September 2022

Accepted: 16 December 2022

Article published online:
15 February 2023

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