A study of more than 500 pregnant women who wanted to have a waterbirth at King Edward Memorial Hospital has found that 40 per cent were unsuccessful.
But Curtin University researchers said that in those women who had a waterbirth in the 12 months to June 2016, 80 per cent had normal, uncomplicated births.
Reasons for not giving birth in a pool included having a labour which progressed too quickly to be prepared, the need for induced labour, damage to tissue, high blood pressure, breech births and fever.
Most women who underwent labour in a pool gave birth in it, and they were more likely to have given birth before, and their first and second stages of labour were likely to have been shorter.
The authors said more research was needed so women could make an informed choice.
There were 200 waterbirths at KEMH last year, and hundreds more women used water to relieve their pain during labour.
The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said the results suggested midwives were picking the right women for waterbirth.
Dr Lucy Lewis, from Curtin’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine and KEMH, said not all women who set out to labour or birth in water achieved their aim.
“Women who were identified and approved to undertake labour in water were less likely than those who were not to be transferred to KEMH’s main birth suite, suggesting the labour had fewer or no complications and they were more likely to have a normal or spontaneous vaginal birth,” she said.
“The main reason women who used water for their labour did not end up having a waterbirth was that they experienced an obstetric complication.
“This suggests the midwives at KEMH are following waterbirth guidelines by responding appropriately in the event a complication arises during labour.”
Dr Lewis said the low caesarean rate among the women surveyed showed midwives were selecting low-risk pregnancies for water labour or birth.
“Given the international concern surrounding the rising caesarean birth rate, our most encouraging finding relates to the small number of women who experienced caesarean birth — just 6 per cent,” she said.
“That figure compares with 37 per cent of women of all risk who gave birth at KEMH.”