Hydrotherapy is used worldwide to promote relaxation and decrease anxiety and pain in labor. Researchers set out to study the psychophysiological effects of hydrotherapy on laboring women.

A pretest-posttest design with repeated measures was used to examine the effects of hydrotherapy on maternal anxiety and pain, neuroendocrine responses, plasma volume shift and uterine contractions during labor. Correlations among variables were examined at three time points (preimmersion and twice during hydrotherapy), according to a report published on www.pubmed.gov.

Eleven term women (mean age 24.5 years) in spontaneous labor were immersed to the xiphoid in 37 degrees C water for one hour. Blood samples and measures of anxiety and pain were obtained under dry baseline conditions and repeated at 15 and 45 min of hydrotherapy. Uterine contractions were monitored telemetrically.

Hydrotherapy was associated with decreases in anxiety, vasopressin and oxytocin levels at 15 and 45 min (all ps < .05). There were no significant differences between preimmersion and immersion pain or cortisol levels. Pain decreased more for women with high baseline pain than for women with low baseline levels at 15 and 45 minutes. Cortisol levels decreased twice as much at 15 minutes of hydrotherapy for women with high baseline pain as for those with low baseline pain. beta-endorphin levels increased at 15 minutes, but did not differ between baseline and 45 min. During immersion, uterine-contraction frequency decreased. A positive plasma volume shift at 15 minutes was correlated with contraction duration.

“Hydrotherapy during labor affects neuroendocrine responses that modify psychophysiological processes,” the researchers concluded.

The research is published in the May issue of Biological Research for Nursing.

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