A Dolphin-Assisted Birth in Hawaii Is Just What the 'Doctor' Ordered to Turn This Breech Baby

dolphin birth

Kimberly Nelli had a water birth at a birthing center for her first child. But when the exercise and health coach was pregnant with her second child, she wanted something different, and heard rumors of a birth experience she had to explore: dolphin-assisted birth.


"A woman I'd met mentioned 'dolphin midwives' and it instantly clicked with me," recalls Kimberly, who was living in Miami at the time. She started researching online, and learned that dolphins had "helped" a handful of women give birth in the Black Sea, and that similar efforts were afoot in Hawaii at a dolphin/whale research facility called the Sirius Institute.

"I didn't find many facts, but in my heart, I knew that was it," she says. "I was going to Hawaii!"

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Dolphin-assisted births, while rare, are a controversial subject. Most doctrors say the risks aren't worth whatever benefits the moms may envision. OB/GYN Pari Ghodsi, MD, doesn't pull any punches on the subject.

"It's dangerous," she says. "A dolphin is a wild animal. In the worst-case scenarios, the dolphin could injure the mother or baby. Even with the dolphin removed from the setting, giving birth under a large body of water is risky. If there are complications with the birthing process, doctors wouldn't be able to safely intervene."

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But Michael Hyson, who trained as a biologist and is co-founder of the Sirius Institute -- formed in 1985 to study interspecies communication, alternative healing methods, and other topics in addition to dolphin-assisted birth -- says that people have the wrong idea about this practice. In part the name is misnomer -- none of the 32 of the women (including Kimberly) who's sought Hyson's help incorporating dolphins into their birth plan have actually delivered in the water. 

"It's logistically difficult to do that," he admits. "These women have all had pre-birth dolphin contact, but they give birth in beds, couches or bathtubs."

So there is no dolphin there when the baby actually arrives in the world. But according to Hyson, even the pre-birth contact may carry benefits. The obvious may merely be stress relief -- how can you not feel great swimming in the ocean every day with these animals? -- but another more contested perk may come from these animals' ability to communicate by sonar. 

"Sonar works like ultrasound, so it's possible that dolphins can actually see inside a mother's womb," Hyson explains, and possibly fix problems they spot there. 

That was Kimberly's experience. To fund her trip to Hawaii, the single mom sold a Rolex watch her parents had given her as a college graduation gift, then scrambled to find an apartment in Hawaii where she could stay for the final three months leading up to her birth. In June 2011, she flew there with her son Kaden, who was then 3, for her very own dolphin-assisted birth.

But before flying to Hawaii, Kimberly got a six-month ultrasound at her midwife's office and was informed that her baby was breech, meaning her baby was poised to come out feet or buttocks first, rather than the traditional head first. Yet once she settled in Hawaii and started swimming with the dolphins daily, she got the feeling these animals were trying to tell her something.

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"They kept doing these back-flips under water," she recalls. "So I imitated their movements." During one of these underwater exercises, Kimberly was surprised to feel her baby turn in the womb.

"At my next ultrasound, I confirmed that she was no longer breech," she says. "While I can't say for sure that the dolphins are responsible, it does seem like a strange coincidence."

Kimberly swam with the dolphins about 40 times in the three months leading up to her birth and was in their company when she felt her first contractions. She'd even considered giving birth in the water.

"I had a huge raft with a mesh middle that I was going to bring into the ocean," she says. She was not scared, because by then, she felt she knew these animals well and trusted that they would not hurt her. Only by the time her contractions became intense later that day, the dolphins had disappeared.

"These dolphins aren't penned up in a facility, so it all boils down to timing," Kimberly says. So she went back to her sublet and called her two midwives (Hyson was by now out of the picture). Forty-five minutes later, she gave birth in her tub to a healthy girl named Naiya -- who is now 3 and in love with dolphins herself.

"Naiya can always tell which beach the dolphins will be at, even if we're miles away," says Kimberly, who now lives in Hawaii and has helped five other women have dolphin-assisted births. "It's like Naiya has a connection with the dolphins. Even if I don't see them in the water, Naiya will insist they're there. Then a second later I'll see them jump out of the water."

Would you ever consider a dolphin-assisted birth?


Image via Kimberly Nelli

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