Expectant mums are not always given full information on the safety of giving birth in water before they go into labour, an inquiry into the death of a baby hours after her birth heard today (Monday).
A sheriff said it is a “considerable concern” that pregnant women are given only “patchy” information about the safety of water births.
A fatal accident inquiry into the death of Nevaeh Stewart, who died hours after being born in a birthing pool at Montrose Royal Infirmary, was told that midwives should be giving expectant mothers full information to make an “informed” choice.
Earlier, the inquiry heard that American studies - supported by some paediatricians in the UK - have described water births as an “experimental procedure” that should “only be performed within the context of a clinical trial”.
The seventh day of the inquiry at Forfar Sheriff Court was told by Professor Tracy Humphrey, dean of health social care at Napier University and former clinical professor of midwifery at NHS Grampian, that women weren’t always being given full information.
She also said that “we don’t know if it is as safe giving birth in water as out of it”.
She added: “There is a difference between immersion during labouring and an actual water birth.
“Water birth itself is not encouraged or discouraged. I am neutral on it.
“How that is imparted to women is that they should be aware there is no good scientific base to say what the outcomes are likely to be.
“It is a procedure that has happened for many years for a significant amount of women and it is something midwives are skilled at.”
Professor Humphrey said women should be told in pre-labour sessions about the “lack of robust evidence” about delivering babies in water.
Sheriff Pino di Emidio, presiding over the inquiry, said: “My point of view is that it is a matter of considerable concern that the evidence I have had in respect of that seems at best patchy, sometimes anecdotal, that is a matter of considerable concern to me.”
Prof Humphrey added: “Although there is no good scientific evidence around the safety of water births it has been going on for years and is becoming increasingly more common.
“Reports from observational studies would suggest it is safe.”
Advocate Mark Fitzpatrick, representing NHS Tayside, asked: “Are you confident that these discussions are taking place?”
She said: “No I’m not.
“Mainly because despite training and education midwives are quite pressured during consultations with women in relation to the amount of clinical assessment and information given to support women.
“They will prioritise what they discuss and where they don’t have time for full discussions they will use written information as a replacement.”
Nevaeh Stewart died just three-and-a-half hours after she was born in a birthing pool at Montrose Royal Infirmary’s community midwife unit on September 30 2012.
A fatal accident inquiry into her death is being held at Forfar Sheriff Court - where her father, Gary Stewart, 30, of Auchenblae, Aberdeenshire, earlier described the unit as an “emergency response blackspot”.
That was after notes made by midwives showed they had noted a neonatal transport team as being “en-route” from Ninewells in Dundee at 5.40am - but didn’t arrive until 7.15am.
Further dates to allow for additional witnesses to be heard have been set at Forfar Sheriff Court on November 1-3.