Water Birthing Pools and Legionnaire’s Risk

If you are planning a water birth/using a pool during labour, you might consider buying or hiring a pool to use at home. You may also have noticed that you can buy inflatable spas for about double the price of a standard birthing pool… I have to admit, the idea was tempting; we’d all be able to enjoy it after the birth… if we could clean it properly! But before you think about buying one, you need to know about the dangers of water birthing pools and legionnaire’s disease.

As it happened, we borrowed a birthing pool from a friend. We may have purchased a Lay-Z-Spa if this hadn’t been an option, though. It seems like a sensible idea – fill it up in advance and keep the water warm and circulated with a pump?

How to minimise the risk of legionnaire’s

Public Health England now advise against filling up the pool in advance, due to the risk of legionnaire’s disease. Legionnaire’s is a very serious lung infection caused by legionella bacteria. A newborn was found to have contracted legionnaire’s and was taken into intensive care. The source of the legionella bacteria was later traced back to the birth pool. The company who manufactured the pool was not named.

Legionnaire’s disease in young children is thankfully incredibly rare, only one case was identified in England between 1990 and 2011.

Birth pools for hire are usually thoroughly cleaned/sterilised before use, but in this case, legionella was present somehow. If legionella is there, heating and circulating the water provides perfect conditions for the bacteria to multiply.

Prof Nick Phin, from Public Health England said: “This is an extremely unusual situation, which we are taking very seriously… We advise that heated birthing pools, filled in advance of labour and where the temperature is then maintained by use of a heater and pump, are not used in the home setting while we investigate further and until definitive advice on disinfection and safety is available.”

Preparations

So, if you are considering using/buying a pool, there is no reason why you can’t still do that. Just don’t fill it in advance of your going into labour, and don’t use a pump to circulate/heat the water.

Make sure you have the hoses and connectors ready. It’s probably sensible to buy a new hose, as you don’t know what could be lurking in one you’ve had a while. I think I would be tempted to try one of these expanding ones. You need to either have an isolation valve on the end, or use the spray as a valve. Then the water pressure expands the hose to its full length.

Perhaps do a trial run so you know how long it will take to fill. Give the pool a good clean with Milton or Dettol beforehand. You don’t need to get too crazy with the sterilisation; you’re not looking for a sterile environment (after all, you’re not sterile!), just remove any dirt left from manufacturing/packaging/shipping.

And enjoy! Being in warm water during labour really is incredibly soothing. I was shocked by the intensity of contractions whenever I got out of the pool, and couldn’t jump back in quick enough! It also comes with other benefits like ease of movement. I’d definitely recommend trying it for labour, even if you’d prefer to birth on dry land.

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