Women and waterbirth: A systematic meta-synthesis of qualitative studies

Claire Clews*, Sarah Church, Merryn Ekberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview Articlepeer-review


Background: The practice of waterbirth is increasing worldwide and has been a feature of maternity services in the United Kingdom for over twenty years. The body of literature surrounding the practice focusses on maternal and neonatal outcomes comparing birth in and out of water. Aim: To undertake a review of qualitative studies exploring women's experiences of waterbirth. This understanding is pertinent when supporting women who birth in water. Methods: A literature search was conducted in databases British Nursing Index, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Allied and Complementary Medicine Database, Maternity and Infant Care, Medline, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts and Web of Science, using search terms waterbirth, labour/labor, childbirth, women, mothers, experience, perception and maternity care. Five primary research articles published between 2003 and 2018 which explored the views of women who had birthed in water were selected for inclusion. Using meta-ethnography, qualitative research studies were analysed and synthesised using the method of ‘reciprocal translational analysis’ identifying themes relating to women's experiences of birthing in water. Findings: Four themes were identified: women's knowledge of waterbirth; women's perception of physiological birth; water, autonomy and control; and waterbirth: easing the transition. Discussion and conclusion: Despite the paucity of qualitative studies exploring women's experiences of waterbirth, meta-synthesis of those that do exist suggested women identify positively with the choice. The experience of birthing in water appears to enhance a woman's sense of autonomy and control during childbirth suggesting waterbirth can be an empowering experience for women who choose it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-573
Number of pages8
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number6
Early online date26 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2020


  • Meta-synthesis
  • Midwifery
  • Natural childbirth
  • Parturition
  • Systematic review
  • Waterbirth
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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