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Allina Health no longer offers water births; advocates upset

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Minneapolis-based Allina Health will no longer be allowing water births as a sometimes-controversial option for expectant mothers – a move that has some proponents outraged.

Allina Health, which has 12 hospitals and 90-plus clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, said Friday that starting immediately it will only allow water births (underwater) as part of clinical research trials, but there are currently no approved trials at Allina Health, according to a press release on its website.

The decision came after the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Academy of Pediatrics announced on April 3 that "both the AAP and ACOG determine that undergoing the first stage of labor in a birthing pool may offer some advantages, such as decreased pain and shorter labors. However, immersion in water during the second stage (underwater birth) has no proven benefit to mother or baby, and can pose serious and sometimes fatal health risks."

While risks are infrequent, they can be severe, Dr. Tonse Raju, chief of the pregnancy and perinatology branch the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told The Today Show. He said the bath water, which can become contaminated with fecal matter or amniotic fluid, poses a danger – babies can get infections if they swallow the contaminated water.

Raju added there have been a few reported cases of babies drowning after aspirating.

The AAP and ACOG also say, "the practice of immersion in the second stage of labor (underwater delivery) should be considered an experimental procedure that only should be performed within the context of an appropriately designed clinical trial with informed consent."

This has advocates upset. A group of mothers gathered outside St. Francis Hospital in Shakopee on Monday to protest Allina's decision, according to KSTP.

“For some reason, all of a sudden when it’s becoming popular and something that a lot of people are wanting, now we’re hearing that this is not something they want to continue offering? It seems a little fishy to me,” Liz Hochman of the Childbirth Collective told WCCO.

The Childbirth Collective organized Monday's protest, Shakopee Valley News says. The Childbirth Collective and other organizations, like Waterbirths International, argue that a water birth is beneficial because it provides significant pain relief for mothers, speeds up labor and lowers blood pressure, among other factors.

Although water births are not being offered now, Allina Health does plan to offer them in the future when the appropriate trial becomes available, according to its website. Allina adds that it will work with researchers who are interested in developing clinical trial protocols for water birth deliveries.

David Kanihan, an Allina spokesman, told the Pioneer Press Tuesday that, when it's appropriate, women can still labor in water, but just can't deliver in a tub.

Hospitals in the Twin Cities started offering water births in 1999, the Pioneer Press says, and have since been an option for women with low-risk pregnancies who meet certain criteria. Allina Health's first water birth was in 2011 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, according to Allina's website.

Allina hospitals, which says it delivers the most babies every year in Minnesota, according to KSTP, delivered 15,364 babies in 2013 – there was no available information on how many of those were water births. The Associated Press says there is no count on how many births are water births nationally.

KSTP says Health East sill offers water births at St. Joseph's, St. John's and Woodwinds. The Childbirth Collective said on its Facebook page that Hennepin County Medical Center, Methodist Hospital. Hudson Hospital, Fairview Riverside Hospital, Regions Hospital, Minnesota Birth Center, Morning Star Birth Center and Health Foundations Birth Center are all still offering water births.

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