Introduction In 2015, 9% of babies born in the UK were delivered underwater. Waterbirth is increasing in popularity, despite uncertainty regarding its safety for neonates. This systematic review and meta-analysis appraises the existing evidence for neonatal outcomes following waterbirth.
Methods A structured electronic database search was performed with no language restrictions. All comparative studies which reported neonatal outcomes following waterbirth, and that were published since 1995, were included. Quality appraisal was performed using a modified Critical Appraisal Skills Programme scoring system. The primary outcome was neonatal mortality. Data for each neonatal outcome were tabulated and analysed. Meta-analysis was performed for comparable studies which reported sufficient data.
Results The majority of the 29 included studies were small, with limited follow-up and methodological flaws. They were mostly conducted in Europe and high-income countries. Reporting of data was heterogeneous. No significant difference in neonatal mortality, neonatal intensive care unit/special care baby unit admission rate, Apgar scores, umbilical cord gases or infection rates was found between babies delivered into water and on land.
Conclusions This systematic review and meta-analysis did not identify definitive evidence that waterbirth causes harm to neonates compared with land birth. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude that there are no additional risks or benefits for neonates when comparing waterbirth and conventional delivery on land.
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