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Bethlehem Birthing Centre in Tauranga is smashing the national average when it
comes to water births, with 40 per cent, or approximately 170 babies, being born into water at the centre each year.

Sara Harris-Ellis with baby Kora – one of about 170 babies born into water at Bethlehem Birthing Centre last year.

The last national figures on water birth in New Zealand were recorded by the New Zealand College of Midwives in its 2016 report into New Zealand Midwifery and Maternity Provider Organisation (MMPO) activities and outcomes which found only 10.2 percent of babies were born into water in New Zealand. Another 26.8 percent of women reported using water in labour.

Immersion in water during labour is known to reduce the need for epidural anaesthetic and increase mothers’ satisfaction with labour. Most water births in New Zealand are either home births or in a primary birthing facility such as Bethlehem Birthing Centre.

Sara Harris-Ellis had a water birth at Bethlehem Birthing Centre in 2020 with her daughter Kora, now five months old. Daughter Lillia was also born at the centre in 2018.

Bethlehem Birthing Centre Clinical Midwife Manager Alexandra Deas was one of the midwives on duty when Lillia was born in 2018, much to Sara’s delight as she had already met her at antenatal classes. When she fell pregnant with Kora, she asked Alexandra to be her lead maternity carer (LMC).

While Sara laboured in water during Lillia’s birth, she was keen to take the next step and have a water birth second time around.

“I was 10 days late with Lillia and felt so heavy. Being in water felt incredible but I was encouraged to get out to give birth. I was much calmer for my birth with Kora and really felt like I had choices.”

Sara describes her water birth as “empowering”. “It happened very fast so I didn’t even think about other pain relief. It was amazing. I was a lot more relaxed compared to the first time and my husband Kahn was able to be fully involved.”

Alexandra says Sara and Kahn “made it look easy”. “Kora had the most amazing birth. Due to being in the pool, her Dad was the first person to touch her and surface her gently and calmly. He did a wonderful job. It’s great having Dads involved, creating memories and stories that last a lifetime.”

Babies born into water often don’t cry because of the gentle nature of their birth.

“That’s quite normal but it does concern some mums,” says Alexandra.

Water births also involve less intervention, allowing babies to come when they’re ready.

“Kora was so calm after her birth, and I put that down to the water birth experience,” says Sara.

Bethlehem Birthing Centre has 12 private rooms with their own ensuite bathrooms, including a bath that can be used as a birthing pool. It is free for local women having low risk births that don’t require medical intervention. Some women are also able to transfer from Tauranga Hospital to Bethlehem Birthing Centre for their postnatal care.

Other features at Bethlehem Birthing Centre include partners having the option of staying with mother and baby, and an on-site chef preparing healthy, nutritious meals. Ongoing breastfeeding support is offered through the centre’s weekly Milk Cafe, and a weekly postnatal support group is available at the centre in conjunction with Project Generate (formerly SuperGrans Western Bay of Plenty).

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