On this episode of the Birthpedia Podcast Justine interviews Barber Harper, founder of Waterbirth International and leading voice for childbirth and maternal care reform, on the importance of respecting mothers and the birthing space during labor as well as the use and safety of warm water immersion during labor and delivery.
Listen in to learn about the role our nervous system plays in the labor process; how water helps achieve peace, calm, and relaxation; and why hospital reform to allow the use of water therapy during birth is a good idea for birthing families.



Justine (Host) – Mission (00:00:00):
Hi, I’m Justine co-founder of Birthpedia. I’m so honored that you chose to join us today. On this podcast, we bring you the most qualified information surrounding all things birth, from preconception to postpartum and newborn care by bringing the birth professional to you. We do what we do to cut through the noise so that birthing families can feel empowered and knowledgeable as they’re making some of the most important decisions of their lives, and the life of their new baby to come. Just a reminder that this podcast is for informational purposes only, and not meant for medical advice. You can read our full disclaimer at So whether you’re driving to your next destination, doing all those dishes, or relaxing with some tea, welcome to the conversation.

Justine (Host) – Intro (00:00:57):
Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast episode. Later on in the episode, I’m going to bring on Anna and Mandy we’ve met in our first podcast. But today we have a very special guest, Barbara Harper. Barbara Harper is a leading voice for childbirth and maternity care reform, an author, educator, midwife, and internationally recognized expert on the use of warm water immersion for labor and birth. So I’m gonna go ahead and bring her on. Hi, Barbara. Please tell the listeners a little bit more about you and your amazing background.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:01:40):
Well, I’ve been [pause], at this [laughing] in maternity care for almost 50 years. I know I don’t look that old, but, I’m in my 70th year on the planet and I started in nursing school when I was 19 years old. [Laughing] So, <<Justine (Host)>> *wow*. So I’ve been at it for a long time and I — I didn’t do well in maternity care facilities in the seventies because I was always trying to change things. And I — I got asked to leave because I — I was a rapple rouser and, <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing], and I continued to be the — my personal mission that I discovered when I was 13 years old. I was 13. My mother had a baby, had a pregnancy. I was number four, and she was pregnant with number five when I was 13. Try being a teenager and having to admit that your parents, you know, still whatever <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing]. I wanted to be with her.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:03:12):
My father was away on a business trip. She was my — oldest two siblings were already out of the house. And my brother wasn’t interested at all. And I literally walked to the hospital and wanted to be with her. And they wouldn’t let me through the front door because I wasn’t 16. And the nurse manager, or ((*the)) — she actually was the anesthesiologist who was also a nurse. She was a nurse, an ((*esthetist)) — esthetician. She came out, family friend, and she brought me a milk crate, so I could stand at my mother’s window. And actually — and I moved it from her room to the delivery room and, and I watched the birth of my brother through the glass. <<Justine (Host)>> *Wow*. And, and I said, right then and there, you know, I couldn’t even go, I couldn’t comfort her. I couldn’t hold her hand. I couldn’t tell her I loved her.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:04:19):
And it — it was — it was so traumatic for me that I said right then and there, “we must change the way we welcome babies into the world”. And, <<Justine (Host)>> *wow*, and I was 13 and I made that personal commitment to — to the universe. And in my heart, I — I knew that my — the rest of my life would be dedicated to that. And <<Justine (Host)>> *wow*, I had circuitous routes and I had 10 years in — in, cardiac intensive care, and neurosurgical intensive care, and postsurgical nursing before I got the call to come back to the babies. And, my grandmother was, her — her picture is right, right behind me. There it is. She’s right in the middle. And she graduated from nursing school in 1919. And she was my inspiration. She had delivered at quote-unquote — had attended over 3,000 births in her 47-year-career as a nurse and a midwife. And I couldn’t walk down the street with her and our little village without somebody saying, “Hey, Estela,” her name was Estela. Everybody called her Stella. “Stella, how’s the family? Oh, your granddaughter’s looking wonderful!” You know — it was just a — it was a — it takes a village. <<Justine (Host)>> *yes, yes*. I knew how babies come out before I knew how they got in [Laughing].

Justine (Host) (00:06:07):
[Laughing] That’s amazing! I love that story. I love when, when it’s — when things are handed down generationally like that. So when did you come — become a midwife?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:06:24):
That was after my first water birth, my second baby. My first birth in the hospital in 1978, in the very hospital where I was working until 12 hours before I went into labor. It was a rather [pause], tortured experience. And, and when I say tortured, I mean, torture. Because this is what we did to women in the seventies. I had leather wrist straps holding my hands down attached to the table. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t touch myself. They whipped my baby out. Cut a huge episiotomy when I was screaming, “Don’t cut me. Don’t cut me.” There was no informed consent. I was ordered to have a cesarean about an hour before she was born. And, and I, I just simply refused. I, I said, “you’re, you’re, you’re not going to take me to surgery.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:07:30):
I’m going to have a vaginal birth.” And, and the doctors — and I said, “prove to me that my pelvis is, is small and not, will not accommodate this very small, tiny baby that I have inside of me.” And she actually had me wheeled, still strapped down, but had me wheeled to x-ray, and I had an x-ray of my pelvis an hour before my baby was born. <<Justine (Host)>> *wow*. And just, just think of, of what that was like. And then the ‘pièce de résistance’ was, my six pound baby, you know was dragged out of me and, and I didn’t — I wasn’t allowed to see her, touch her, kiss her. And she was whisked off to the nursery. I was put in my postpartum room, and it was 15 more hours before they consented to give me my baby. And, it was because the policy then was for the baby to be examined by the pediatrician. And the pediatrician was on vacation and not coming back until the following day. And so there you go. I swore off of maternity care after that. And I said, “I just, I just can’t do it.” I even swore off of sex because I told my husband, I said, “No, uh-ah! We’re not gonna, we’re not gonna risk getting pregnant. I’m — there’s no way that I’m gonna go through that experience again.”

Justine (Host) (00:09:23):
Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s no wonder that now your message is so — it’s about how important it is that babies come into this world. So can you talk a little bit more to that? Why is it so important how a baby comes into the world?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:09:45):
Well, there’s two people involved in birth. It’s not all about the mother. It’s not all about the baby. They are symbiotic and [pause] their systems monitor each other, from conception where the father and the mother of the baby, their DNA comes together, and you start building a possible human. And that possible human, it’s heart starts beating at five weeks after gestation. Its lungs start expanding and contracting, not breathing, but just the muscles start expanding and contracting 10 weeks after gestation after conception and your liver grows and your stomach grows, and everything gets built. And by 20 weeks, we’re now seeing that even 21-week-old fetuses can be viable if they’re cared for in a special care nursery. And so by 20 weeks, the brain, the human brain starts wiring and responding to the environment. So the environment for that fetus is the warmth.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:11:23):
And the womb provides warmth, security, oxygen, and nutrition, and everything that the baby needs is provided for it. And so it grows, and it becomes a fully informed human by reacting to the emotional and environmental signals that it, that it picks up. And what are the signals in the womb? The signals in the womb are the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors of the mother, and a little bit from the father as well, because what the mind thinks the body feels. So what the father thinks the mother feels, and she releases a chemical that then the baby feels. So you’ve got this chemical party going on. And when the baby comes out from anywhere from 37 weeks to 43 weeks, 44 weeks, it depends on the length of gestation. And that’s another topic we can talk about someday. But the fetus is now a fully formed human being and it needs to be treated with respect, understanding, and the people around this birth, especially the mother and the father, need to understand that everything that’s done is being interpreted and a chemical footprint is being laid down in that human brain. You’re not just getting a baby out. You are creating a new human being, <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* with feelings with an open heart with the an emotional response. And that feeling human being is thinking, creating memories. And if I ask you Justine, do you remember the day that you were born?

Justine (Host) (00:13:43):
[Laughing] No [Laughing], but yes.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:13:49):
Well, I could bring you any number of textbooks in pre- and perinatal psychology that says that you actually do remember. <<Justine (Host)>> *Yeah* And those memories are intrinsic. They’re inside you. They’re in your, what I call the cranial, or the mind hall of records and everything that was said to you, everything that was done to you, every thought of the person people around you, every thought is cataloged and a chemical is attached to it because what the mind thinks the body feels. What that means is every thought you have is connected to the release of a hormone, whether, and if it’s a negative thought, it’s a hormone of, let’s say, fear, anxiety. Dr. Stephen Porges would call that the polyvagal theory. We have two parts of our brain and we have different chemicals that are released. And part of our entire system is called the dorsal vagal, and with that, we get the chemicals of fear and anxiety, which prepare you to fight, or flee, or freeze. And the other part is our connected, centered, confident, calm self. And that’s our dorsal our ventral vagal, which gives us chemicals of oxytocin, and serotonin, and dopamine, and connection. And so how we wire this baby by what our thoughts are, and those people around this baby from 20 weeks gestation until about the end of two years as this new human being becomes cognizant. It’s always been cognizant, but now it has the growth in the neural connections to express itself, and babies express themselves. They communicate, they’re beautiful communicators, but we don’t teach parents how to listen.

Justine (Host) (00:16:33):
Yeah. You know? Oh, sorry. It’s so — it makes so much sense. It’s so interesting. And it makes so much sense and not to get off topic, but even as adults, we’re the same. Like we’re still, we’re still try, you know — our brains and the polyvagal, you know, system is still wired for safety and connecting the thoughts to the feelings as you’re talking about. So it makes so much sense that even as a brand new baby, it would be the same. It wouldn’t be any different than it is for us now.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:17:17):
Well, the difference is that the couples that I work with to teach them before the baby comes, or before they get pregnant, that in every moment, every single moment, we’re responding to our environment and those responses are usually based on crisis response. And that’s the dorsal [pause], I’m sorry, that yes, that’s the dorsal vagal. Okay, I want to get my terminology correct here. But we — the neurological system has this division, and it was Stephen Porges who was studying this at the University of Chicago, working with babies in NICUs. And we call it the will to survive. Oh, no, it’s a crisis response that increases the ability to survive by creating a pattern of behavior. And let me, let me just illustrate this with a story. I was entering an airplane, you know, before COVID shutdowns and all that.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:18:42):
I was flying to different parts of the world to educate doctors, midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, nurses in every place in the planet. I’ve been to 75 countries. I’ve been blessed with the possibility to take this message of waterbirth. And I know we’re going talk about waterbirth, but for me waterbirth is this platform upon which we can talk about all the issues around birth. And I always weave in the sacredness of birth and the sacredness of this new human being that it’s not just a passenger, and the mother is not just a vehicle to get the baby out. Okay?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:19:38):
So I’m just hopping on an airplane. I walk under the plane, I take my seat, I’m on the aisle. And on comes this woman holding hands with about a seven or eight year old. And the — and she looks just like, she’s totally panicked. Like her eyes are the like the deer in the headlights. <<Justine (Host)>> *Hmm*. And I can see, and they sit down one row behind me and across the aisle. So if I really stretched, I could reach her, you know. And as they sit down, I hear her son, her small child saying to her, “It’s okay mommy, it’s okay mommy, we’re not gonna die. We’re not gonna die.” She is so afraid of flying that — I do — between people coming down the aisle, I just reach over, and my midwife came out of me. <<Justine (Host) *Mm-hmm*. And “let me breathe with you. It’s okay. <<Justine (Host) *Awe*.Take a deep breath” because there’s many, many ways where we can get out of that fear response and that crisis management response and go into a calm, centered, peaceful space.” And what better practice, or what better method can we do that than to what midwives, and doulas are taught to do is to really look at a mother and say, “Look at my eyes”, you make eye contact, you use soft touch, you sing.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:21:32):
I sing to my clients, you know, <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* and prepare them for that next wave of the contraction of the uterus and things. So I put on my midwife hat and I’m not trying to rescue her, I’m I’m really trying to help her adjust. And I say to the two people that are sitting next to me, I said, “Oh my gosh! I wonder if she was locked into an incubator when she was a child baby. And the woman sitting next to me goes, “Are you a psychic?” <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing] I said, “No. I just know a lot about how the human brain responds to separation.” When we are born, we are supposed to come to the mother’s chest and stay there. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* And it’s a biological imperative the baby understands neurologically it’s programmed to have neuro behavioral program to leave the womb, and to come to a breast, and to attach, that if the mother were unconscious, the baby would still get out completely.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:23:00):
So, I kind of explain a very short version of this to this woman, and she goes, “I’m her mother. And she was born at 30 weeks and spent 10 weeks in a NICU.” <<Justine (Host)>> *Wow. Wow* And from that point, then I start talking to them about all the things because that crisis response takes over when you get triggered by the airplane door closing, because it reminds you of your helplessness. You have absolutely no control, no one is listening to you. No one is understanding what you need, and people are doing things to you that you cannot stop. And so you go into crisis mode and the pre-perinatal — the association of pre- and perinatal psychology and health (APA). I’ve been involved with them since 1983. And my bookshelves around my house are full of studies.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:24:14):
And I’ve worked with Dr. David Chamberlin. I’ve taken classes with Peter Levine; with thinkers today. Gabor Maté who says all addiction begins in the womb. And when you start studying the brain, I remember I worked in neurosurgical intensive care for a while, and I became a neurosurgical tech, and I was a neurosurgical geek in the sense that I had to — I had to read everything in pediatric neurology. And so, yes, the babies brought me back. The babies brought me back because they started calling me and saying, “we need you.” <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing]

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:25:10):
Somebody has to talk for them. <<Justine (Host)>> *Yeah* Somebody. And when the mother just puts her hands on her belly — and in my classes I teach childbirth classes. They’re called Blissborn classes. And I, in the very first class, I’ve got a class tomorrow. And it’s a new group of pregnant women, their partners, and their babies — the babies attend the class too. And they’re very much listening because they want connection. They need connection. They need acknowledgement in that period of 20 weeks to birth they are listening for those times when the mother puts her hands on her belly and she says, or she just thinks, “I love you. Thank you. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* Thank you for coming.” And the when I do this, just this guided imagery with the parents, it’s just a short time; it’s about two minutes. We just spend really focusing on the baby and being grateful for the pregnancy. And no matter what has happened, all of the babies start kicking and jumping, and their little heart rates will go up. And those, “Oh, somebody recognizes that I’m here and I’m listening!” And this is wonderful. I call them the little love breaks. There was a wonderful obstetrician — pediatrician, actually, and I’m blanking on his name right now, but he’s a blessed memory. And he called them little love breaks. And so 20 times a day… 20 times a day, when you’re pregnant, just put your hands on your belly and just say, “Hey, I love you.”

Justine (Host) (00:27:13):
Oh, I love that. That’s so sweet. <<Barbara (Guest)>> *Don’t you like birth?* Yeah, we all do. Right? Even now. So, you just referenced your course. Would you tell us a little bit more about that? And in that course, you also talk about creating a sacred space, which you’ve already mentioned so many things, but there’s so much more of how parents can create that sacred space in birth, how they can protect it, which includes the people that are there. Could you just talk a little bit more to that and what else you cover in your course?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:27:53):
Well, the course was designed by my good friend, Laura Wood. Who’s the founder of Blissborn, and Blissborn is a self-hypnosis course, but it’s also a complete childbirth education. We talk about the anatomy and physiology of your pregnancy, the stages of labor, the everything that you will go through. And that safe space has to be created in your mind, first of all. And we enlist the partners. And if a mother doesn’t have a partner, that’s still okay, because we’re going to empower her to work with anyone and let them know what she needs. And so we go through five weeks of training and the classes are three hours each. And I end each class with a very deep guided hypnosis, and then they go home and their home-play assignments are to listen to that hypnosis every single day. I give them tasks right from the beginning to create a routine.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:29:16):
Because if we look at current psychology, if you want to create a habit or get rid of a habit that you don’t like, like smoking, or overeating, or anything that you want to change your approach. You have to start with the mind… what the mind thinks the body feels. And that reprogramming usually takes about six weeks. And so we suggest that women come to the classes, sign up for the classes, either online or in person, and find they can find a Blissborn instructor in their own area. Because I also train women to be — women and men — to be Blissborn instructors. We’ve had a few dads that just loved the course so much that they said, “This isn’t a birth course. This is a life course.” This is training because you can use these techniques for everything in your life, to for the good. So we give you tips and things, to what I call stack your habits. So, do you brush your teeth in the morning?

Justine (Host) (00:30:37):
Mm-hmm, yes.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:30:40):
Every morning. And so, while you’re brushing your teeth, you do a deep relaxation.

Justine (Host) (00:30:48):

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:30:50):
And you can go into hypnosis with one breath. And so all hypnosis is profound relaxation. So when you’re listening to your audio, that we send you audio for each week for the ride to the hospital or the birth center. If you’re not staying at home, we talk about all your choices. We talk about the chemicals of birth, the hormones. You read article from really good authors. I even give people lots of film to watch — beautiful waterbirths, bed births, hypno births, Blissborn births. They — if you’re a couple that has never watched a video… and these days, I don’t see how you ((*can)) – can’t because Instagram and Facebook is full of it [Laughing]. <<Justine (Host)>> *Right?* But I’m going to send you some videotape. And the first videotape I send I go — this is a secret, okay — but I’m going to let you in on this, Justine. I send a completely natural undisturbed birth. I want you to see this [Pause] and it’s a dog giving birth [Laughing].

Justine (Host) (00:32:15):

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:32:19):
We treat our pets much better than we treat our women. Okay.

Justine (Host) (00:32:23):
I agree. You know, it’s always fascinating to me when I see an animal birth and everybody’s so hands off, nobody wants to disturb the animal, you know? So in your course, is it primarily for waterbirth, <<Barbara (Guest)>> *Not at all* or any kind of birth?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:32:39):
We don’t. Because look, if you master profound relaxation, and if you create this shield around you, that protects you from negativity. And we work on that; we work on that so that you can give birth in the front seat of the car, on the way to the hospital, you can give birth standing in your doorway, like a friend of mine who took my — not only took the classes, but she took the teacher training and she told her husband, “We have to go now!” And he ended up catching the baby at the front door. <<Justine (Host)>> *Wow* Dropped the bag and caught the baby because — and this is unusual; it doesn’t happen to everybody — but she basically could completely feel relaxed with every single surge and contraction of her body and welcomed it in saying, oh, you know, she went into her happy place.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:33:48):
She went into her ventral vagal. And instead of her crisis response — maternity care today is crisis response. Everything. Women walk in to my classes like the deer in the headlights, like the woman on the airplane. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm, mm-hmm* And so if I welcome them in and have them talk about their worst fears, and then we make a plan to deal with that, and then we talk about dealing with pain. And after are the fourth class, I never used the word pain again. I never ever, ever approach a woman in labor and ask her “how much pain are you having?” <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing] Because pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.

Justine (Host) (00:34:44):
Mm-hmm, that’s so true.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:34:44):
They learn how with many techniques, how to go inward and control their response. They can turn up the dial to their all of their sensations, or they can turn it down or turn it off completely. And if you can do that, you can actually — we show in the class, we show a film of a hypnotherapist. He’s a trained hypnotherapist, but he’s having abdominal surgery with no anesthetic. And that always blows everybody’s mind. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* So yes, the evaluations and the reports back there’s many approaches to hypnosis, but Blissborn is the most complete. And we really prepare you for that empowered second stage, whether you’re on a bed, on the floor, on the porcelain self cleansing, birthing stool, or in a tub of warm water. And women have that connected, ecstatic undisturbed, normal birth experience, which then creates this baby. If you have a calm birth, if you have a calm mother, you have a calm baby <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm*. So if you want a baby that doesn’t have drugs on board, that breastfeeds and latches right away, doesn’t have to overcome the epidural medication or the pain medication that’s the only thing that they offer you to deal with pain. I love training midwives and doctors instant hypnosis that they can use at the bedside. And Laura and I have worked very, very diligently to take this information and translate into terms that they will inspire them to actually offer this care to every woman that walks in the door.

Speaker 2 (00:37:07):
Oh, I love it. I love it. Can we talk about waterbirth? So to talk about waterbirth, I’m going to bring on Mandy, and Mandy did a couple polls on Facebook and Instagram about waterbirth. Mandy, can you share the results from those polls?

Mandy (Guest) (00:37:26):
Yeah, of course. Hi Barbara, it’s nice to see you again. <<Barbara (Guest)>> *Hey* Yeah, we did. We asked a couple questions on social media about, if given the opportunity, would you like to give birth in water? And 92% said absolutely 100% yes. And then the other 8% were curious; wanted to know more about what waterbirth was. So I thought that was pretty telling, at least with the Birthpedia following, there’s a lot of enthusiasm around waterbirth, and I do think it’s because it kind of — there’s something about water, I think it taps into a mom’s natural instinct for childbirth. So I’d love to hear you talk more about that.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:38:14):
Well, that’s gonna keep me employed, Mandy

Mandy (Guest) (00:38:17):
[Laughing] Yeah. Right.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:38:19):
And it’s also inspiring because we have a program, you know, my water birth certification and education courses Birthpedia hosted last year, when I suddenly couldn’t fly to Dubai anymore, Israel, or Turkey, or China, Thailand, Vietnam, everywhere. I couldn’t go anywhere in the U.S. I just got back from a hospital in Wisconsin and I gave them the same course that was on – and this was all of the hospital nurses, this was the providers who chose to come, midwives and doctors, both, not all the doctors came because they were like, “Uh, no, not going todo that.” But there were some doctors that did and were so excited about it. So the courses have to be online. I learned that because of COVID, because people were just like begging me, but one other things that we’ve started with doulas is to take them and give them a course on how to advocate for waterbirth; how to approach a hospital.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:39:44):
And there’s a doula in Dubai that has taken my course many times. I was going to Dubai about three times a year and doing online courses for them even five years ago. So this doula approached me and said, “I want to go knocking on the doors of all the hospitals in Dubai because my job is easier when waterbirth is integrated and you do such a good job training the staff and training us doulas what to look for and how to support a woman in her coping, you know, with good coping strategies. It’s really good. So we created the waterbirth community educator and a waterbirth community educator talks to mothers. And I give them — they take the course, they learn everything about it. They take a test, they write a paper.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:40:48):
It’s now in like in eight weeks. They go through it, and so it takes about an hour a week. And then we meet in a group. I connect different doulas. It’s just so exciting because they go out into their community and here they are. They have the answers for you, and this is why we’re getting that 92%. And by the way, I voted too [Laughing x3].

Mandy (Guest) (00:41:20):
I did too.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:41:24):
So, and I would, I’ve had two waterbirths. They’re 35 and 37, but if God would bless me with [Laughing] a 70-year- old womb that works <<Justine (Host)>> [Laughing], I would definitely get in the tub and have a baby [Laughing]. I still dream about it. <<Mandy (Guest) *Yeah* And I work with women every single day, online and the phone and in my classes and, and I still attend births.

Justine (Host) (00:41:58):
Absolutely. So let’s just answer — let’s talk about just the common questions that a lot of parents are interested in knowing about waterbirth. You know, let’s start with the safety because I feel like that comes up a lot, you know, “Is it safe?” “What are the — can there be complications?” “Can babies breathe underwater by accident?” Can you speak to the safety of waterbirth?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:42:31):
Well, you know, your Birthpedia site has a wonderful for parents a five-part series. It’s only 20 minutes in each segment that answers all of those questions. I’m just going put that right up front first. Okay. Because you just sign on and you can watch the whole thing. And it’s great. And the short answer is the research, the safety is in three places: infection — no more infections in the water, actually far less than there are on the bed. The research — has mushroomed over the last — our first article that was published in modern literature was 1983 and it was the first 100 births at a hospital in France with Michel Odent, he wrote up the stories of that, the statistics, the data, and published it in a scientific journal called The Lancet. It’s a peer review journal. Today we have over 500 articles that talk about over 100,000 babies that have been born in water. And that’s just the scientific literature. If we look at — I just read this morning — I get a Google alert, and I just read this story of a woman in India who’s very famous and is an actress, and she’s married to a famous musician in India. And she had a waterbirth at a center in Hyderabad, that’s run by my good friend, doctor and midwife, Fajia Cristinon. And so even in India, we’ve got Fajia’s sanctum birth center happening with waterbirths. And yesterday I met with a woman in India who’s building a birth center in Bengaluru, which is also known as Bangalore. And she took the course so that she could understand waterbirth.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:44:58):
So the safety is also in the results and the numbers. We have over a million babies — a million babies that have been born in water in every part of the world. And over 120 countries, you can have a waterbirth in New Zealand, in Australia, in South Africa, in Kenya, in Senegal. Almost every country in the Middle East. I’m working with a couple right now in Mauritius. Do you even know where Mauritius is? So, <<Justine (Host)>> *No [Laughing]* No. Okay. So if it’s that safe, if a hundred — if a hundred thousand babies are reported in the literature without complications, then babies cannot take a breath. They are stimulated only to switch from fetal circulation to newborn circulation. They go from the womb to the world in a very calculated neuro-behavioral program that says, first you get born, then we rush blood from your placenta into your lungs.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:46:23):
For the first time we increase that. And all of the stuff that’s already there comes out. We open up the lung cells and your brain has now enough oxygen, and your lungs have enough oxygen to send a signal to start your respiratory center in your brain. And it’s not going to stop until the day you die. And this is all a built-in sequence. We don’t have babies going ‘[gasps]’ while they’re under the water. They cannot, it’s physiologically impossible. Impossibly. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm*. Impossible. And so they come up out of the water and their face hits the air. This is the same for a breach baby that is born, you know, with its head still inside and the baby’s hanging there. It cannot breathe until the head drops out. So water babies, and breach babies transition into newborns with their respiratory centers working in exactly the same way. <<Justine (Host)>> *Hmm, so… *. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Justine (Host) (00:47:50):
So why is it then that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists do not recommend waterbirth have actually delivering your baby in the water. And they say the safeties not been determined.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:48:07):
Okay. They said that — well, let me, let me go back. I have a long history with ACOG because I wrote to them in 1995 and sent them all of the published literature, all 20 articles [Laughing] of successful waterbirths. And they wrote back to me and said, “Thank you very much for sending us all of the literature. But look, we examined everything. And there, the predominance of the literature is from the U.K., Switzerland, Germany. This was 1995. There was only one article published in the — in one of their journals. And that was from my good friend, Dr. Michael Rosenthal. And before he had, he was the first obstetrician fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and he started a freestanding birth center because when he heard Michel Odent talk about waterbirth, he was like, “[Gasps] Wow, I wanna do that!” And we have lots of obstetricians in the U.S. that go, ‘wow, I want to do that’ [Laughing]. And we have a few obstetricians who say, “[Stern opposition] Not enough research” because the letter from Stanley Zinberg said until of the day that there is a population in one study that is a randomized controlled trial. That means you’re pregnant. You come in and you have a normal labor and you get randomized, you go have a waterbirth. And the next person that comes in, you go have a bed birth.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:50:02):
That’s not going to work. Right? We have done randomized controlled trials. And all of the results are exactly the same. Women love it. They have good outcomes. The Cochran database says no baby has ever been harmed. No mother has ever been been compromised because of laboring or giving birth in water. However, Stanley Zinberg said until that day, when we have multiple randomized controlled trials with 10,000 patients or more with the results, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will be against waterbirth. And so last — this year, it was, I think it was actually November, 2020, the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) did a retrospective, not a randomized control trial, but they did a retrospective of 26,000 women who gave birth in freestanding birth centers with no fetal monitors, no drugs, no epidurals, and with available water. And over 10,000 of those women gave birth in water and they published all the statistics. And I can send anybody — anybody just go to my website, and you can download that article not well. Yes, you can download that article and write to me, [email protected] or [email protected], and we’ll flood you with the literature that you can then take to your doctor and say, look okay. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that there’s not enough evidence to either guide a woman’s decision for or against they are on the fence now, before they were completely against it. Water should be considered an experimental procedure and only done in randomized controlled trials after informed consent. And now they’re saying, okay, we get it. Babies are being born in U.S hospitals, over 200 U.S. hospitals.

New Speaker (00:52:27):
And so if you’re a midwife or a doctor and you want to offer waterbirth to your clients — okay, get education, have a protocol, have an inclusion criteria, an exclusion criteria, who can set foot in the tub, who should not go into the tub, and inform yourselves. And when they published that in November of 2016, I wrote them a thank you letter. <<Justine (Hope)>> *Hmm* Because every time I have applied, even this last trip, last week, I was in a hospital in Wisconsin, Sacred Heart hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the nursing director applied to ACOG for continuing medical education credits for the few doctors that came and ACOG granted credits for our workshop.

Justine (Host) (00:53:31):
Wow, that’s wonderful.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:53:33):
It is changing.

Justine (Host) (00:53:34):
Yeah. And you you’ve been doing this for years, visiting hospitals all over the world, educating doctors, midwives, and staff on the best practices for to offer water safely to their clients. In fact, I’m gonna bring Brianna on because you went to her hospital in Chicago when she was a brand new midwife. Brianna, how was that? Do you know, do you like at the time, did you know how that came about? What was the training like for you as a new midwife?

Brianna (Guest) (00:54:08):
Yeah, no, it’s lovely seeing you again, Barbara, and I — it really did transform the way I practiced. I was trained in a highly medicalized system, as a labor and delivery nurse. I, too, had kind of similar experiences to Barbara, and kind of that maternity care was going in the wrong direction, which was what sort of spurred me into midwifery in the first place. And then the very first practice that I joined, it was the mission of my partner to bring on waterbirth. And we had the support of the obstetrician that we worked with and we brought Barbara Harper in to help train, not just the providers, but also the entire nursing staff. And it really was a phenomenal course, and kind of completely shifted the culture in our hospital, which was really phenomenal.

Justine (Host) (00:55:14):
So Barbara, I’m curious, are all hospitals, especially, we’ll just stick to America for now. Do you find that they’re open or is there some work to be done to get waterbirth in as many hospitals as possible?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:55:32):
Well, when you — when I have a request to come to a hospital, and I was just before we started filming this, I was writing a proposal for a hospital in Alabama. And it’s the nurse midwives who usually invite me, sometimes it’s the doctors as well. Sometimes it’s the nurse managers, but what we see today is crisis management of pregnancy, and the more we can open their eyes to the benefits of water, the liberation that women feel of taking back their own control. I always end all my seminars with kind of little preaching. You know, it’s like you have to get past your own fears about this and the fear of letting go. And just one story before we close here. But, one of my online seminars was for a group of 23 doctors and midwives in the Philippines.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:56:42):
This was just a few months ago and we did it like a college course. They walked two or three segments every week, and then we would meet together for two hours and discuss it. And the very first meeting, one of the obstetricians said, “I was trained in medical school to be the captain of the ship. And what I hear you telling me in this first segment is that the mother has to be the captain of the ship. And that’s just not gonna work because I know what’s going on.” And by the time we finished six weeks later, we have the final exam, which is a case review. And they all have to decide what’s the best treatment plan and how you’re going to talk to the family, and you’re going to ask informed consent permission, and informed decision making with the family itself with mother and father.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:57:44):
And she came forward and she said, “Do you remember what I said that first time?” And I said, “Yeah, that you had to be the captain of the ship.” And she starts crying. She literally has tears. And I start crying. And she said, “After taking your course, I realized that it’s my job to support her; to support her in her body, in her mind, and in her soul. I have to be that person that protects her and just guides her. And she — I have to empower her so that she is able to do everything that she and the baby have to do.” And with that, with tears in my eyes, I said, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord count no shame on you. And may you all be filled with the knowledge of peace that comes from knowing that you’re doing good for women?” <<Justine (Host)>> *Mmm* Every single person, all 23 doctors and midwives, we were all going [Sobbing].

Justine (Host) (00:59:05):

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:59:05):
It was a complete and total transformation.

Justine (Host) (00:59:10):
Yes. Okay. So, so Barbara, I am a mom and I believe in waterbirth you have helped me believe in myself, believe in waterbirth. And obviously waterbirth is a lot more accepted in homes and in birth centers, that’s a given, but if I wanted to have birth in a hospital, what’s the best way for me to find a hospital open to waterbirth?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (00:59:41):
Well, first you have to find a midwife that’s in a hospital because the likelihood that you’re going to, at least be allowed to labor in water, and even one hour in a tub is going to change your labor. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* So birthing in the water is never the goal. The goal is comfort, peace, and relaxation. And wouldn’t you like to be comfortable and have a peaceful and relaxed birth. So find a nurse midwife. We have over 10,000 nurse midwives in the country who are working in many, many hospitals everywhere. And so, look for somebody like Brianna, who’s practicing in South Carolina, just look up in your area. And some midwives will advertise online. Just those, look for midwives, South Carolina, it’s easy. I do referrals every single day. Hospitals where midwives are practicing and midwives have spread waterbirth. And we have midwife researchers like Jennifer Vanderlaan and Jenna Shaw-Battista, who are publishing in the U.S, the research that we need to move it forward.

Barbara Harper (Guest) (01:01:00):
And these young women are going to take it over, and they’re gonna be running waterbirth international. They’re going to be running the referrals and things so that more women can understand. But find a provider that listens to you. <<Justine (Host)>> *Mm-hmm* And the, one of the, the buttons that I have from the American College of Nurse Midwives says, ‘listen to women’. And that’s the philosophy of midwives. We listen to women. We plan care together. And so your success is going to depend on your provider, the nurse manager, and your determination. So see what you want. And if you’re not pregnant yet, start planning ahead. And if you want a waterbirth, it helps if we have at least six months to work on your case so that we can educate the hospital and get them the protocols, everything you need is at Waterbirth International —

Justine (Host) (01:02:05):
Yes. That was my next question. Where can people find you? So, you have some courses on What are your ins — what’s your Instagram handle?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (01:02:18):
@TheBarbaraHarper [Laughing].

Justine (Host) (01:02:21):

Barbara Harper (Guest) (01:02:22):
And @WaterbirthInt

Justine (Host) (01:02:26):
Okay, wonderful. And if people want more information about your Blissborn course, that’s, right?

Barbara Harper (Guest) (01:02:34): and also on

Justine (Host) (01:02:38):
Awesome. Well, we have a special discount code for people who are listening to today’s podcast. If you sign up for any of the courses on Birthpedia’s website, the discount code is WATERBIRTH20, and you get a 20% off discount code. So thank you, Barbara, for that generous discount. And right now we’re going to close this portion of the podcast, which is for parents, and expecting parents to be. For those that are interested, you can go to Birthpedia’s website and become a subscriber. That’s where you’re going to get the second portion of this podcast, where Barbara, Mandy, and Brianna and myself, we are going to be talking as birth professionals with Barbara about waterbirth in the birth space. So see you there.


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