Expectant mothers in South Australia’s second-largest city say they should have the same access to water birthing services as those in Adelaide. 

Mount Gambier, in the state’s south-east, is home to its largest hospital outside of metropolitan Adelaide and services the Limestone Coast region as well as parts of south-western Victoria. 

The hospital has what SA Health calls a “level two” obstetrics and neonatal surgery, as well as midwifery home visits. 

But a group of mums in the town want the hospital to also offer water birthing options, as is available in some public and private hospitals in Adelaide. 

“Everyone has different plans for their birth and what works for them,” local pregnant woman Tamara Kilsby said. 

Mount Gambier Hospital is the largest public health facility in regional South Australia.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“But having the facilities available to be able to have the option of a water birth in Mount Gambier is a fabulous idea.” 

Water birthing involves mothers being submerged in a pool while giving birth, which can act as a natural pain relief and reduce the need for epidurals. 

Michelle Vine gave birth to her first child, a boy, in May last year and said she would have liked the option of a water birth. 

“I went into our bath at home during the early stages of labour until I had to go into hospital,” she said. 

“I just find being in the bath really relaxing in general and there’s also benefits to being in the bath and warm water during labour.” 

More hospitals are making provisions for water births.(ABC News: Gregor Salmon)

A Limestone Coast Local Health Network spokesperson said it was “always seeking to understand the health needs of the community”. 

“Our thanks to the community members who have given their feedback on their interest in water births and the use of water immersion for pain relief in labour,” the spokesperson said. 

“While the option of water births is not currently offered at our sites, we are always seeking to understand the health needs of the communities we serve, and to offer more choice to access care, closer to home.” 

Practice around for ‘centuries’ 

Water birthing has been offered at the Riverland General Hospital in Berri since 2022. 

Sarah Vater was the first mother to have a baby via water birthing at Berri and said she could not “put into words” how beneficial it was. 

“I can honestly say it was the best thing for my birth,” she said.

“It created the most beautiful, calm experience. I didn’t have a drop of pain medication and it was actually phenomenal.” 

Sarah Vater says giving more mothers the option for water births is important.(Supplied: Sarah Vater)

Australian College of Midwives SA Branch chair Dr Megan Cooper said water birthing as a practice had existed throughout the world for “centuries”. 

“There can be a belief that this is an abnormal thing to do, but if we think of birth as a normal physiological process, it’s just a different place to give birth,” she said. 

She said building the infrastructure for water births could be difficult, but technology was moving forward.  

“We’re now seeing many companies around the world developing specialised baths that are height adjustable, auto-climbable and temperature adjustable,” Dr Cooper said.

Dr Megan Cooper is inflatable pools are providing an option for the moment.(Supplied: Flinders University)

“They are expensive, so some of the hospitals will actually decline having them because it is a cost to a health service.

“However, the best approach to support it right now is that there are so many options for inflatable pools, which are good for infection control because they have disposable liners.”

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