Mom's Home Birth in Pool Turns Tragic

home birth poolMany mothers-to-be choose to give birth in water -- it's calming, helps facilitate a natural birth, and the buoyancy of the water allows mom to move with more ease, making labor less stressful on the mind and body. There are hospitals and birth centers that have birthing pools, and it is a popular choice for home births as well. Just as there is a risk to anything in life, there is a risk to birthing in a birth pool if it hasn't been properly cleaned or the water contains bacteria, particularly if it is heated. Tragically, a weeks-old baby died from Legionnaires' disease contracted from being born in a heated home birthing pool.


The Texas mother had a home water birth surrounded by her loved ones and midwives. She had a healthy pregnancy and the birth went well without any complications. Six days after birth, the baby had difficulty breathing and was taken to the hospital. After testing, legionella bacteria was discovered and the infant died after 19 days in the hospital. It is believed that the baby contracted Legionnaires' from the heated home birthing pool, and Texas health officials began an investigation.

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The family hired a licensed midwife who worked with a midwifery center in Texas. It was reported that in preparation for the home birth, the center delivered the heated home birthing pool two weeks before the birth. It was then filled with water from the home's well, which was not recently treated, so water-purifying, chlorine-free enzyme drops were added to the water and the circulation system was turned on with the temperature at around 98.6°F, where it stayed until two days before the birth. The pool was then drained of the water and filled and heated again. It is the heated home birthing pools that seem to carry the most risk due to the recirculated water and being filled in advance. It gives the chance for bacteria to thrive.

Legionnaires' is very rare in children and the first case of its kind reported in the United States. It is a severe form of pneumonia, and when contracted by a newborn, whose lungs and immune system are still developing, it can be fatal. This is just so terribly sad, and my heart goes out to the family for their loss.

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This case needs to spotlight the importance of being sure the home birthing pool used during birth is properly cleaned and cared for. If you are getting your birthing pool from a birthing center, talk to them about their cleaning and disinfecting process, and use a new liner as well. Make sure any and all your concerns are answered. Trusting your midwife, doula, and/or doctor is very important when it comes to birth -- the less stressed you are and the more confident you feel, the better your experience. You want to feel safe, be safe, and make sure your baby is safe. When birthing at home, women do not just blow up a pool, put water in, and get in. There is a process that must be followed in order to make sure the entire area is properly cleaned. Educate yourself on that process and be sure it is followed. All the proper measures to prevent infection must be taken.

Most birthing pools are safe and this is a very sad but rare case of the baby contracting legionella, which -- as the CDC describes -- is "naturally found in water, especially warm water. Hot tubs that are not cleaned and disinfected enough can become contaminated with Legionella." Which is why a properly cleaned environment is always the best place to birth a baby -- whether that is at home, in a birthing pool, or a hospital bed. It's not where we birth that should be at the center of this -- it's being sure we birth in clean surroundings.

Does this information scare you out of wanting to birth in a birthing pool?


Image via eyeliam/Flickr

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