This are my personal comments on choosing a birth pool, based on a rough-and-ready contribution to the Homebirth UK email group. Inflatable or rigid, heated or unheated, and other issues.
The most important difference between inflatables and the rigid hire pools is the latter have heater/filter units so you can just get the pool set up well before you go into labour and forget about it. This is important for me because I have several times had to set up and fill birth pools while in labour, and have felt resentful about it - it really interrupted the flow of things.
Heated pools come with water maintenance kits - gentle water purifiers etc.. - to keep the water safe. Clearly, if you have a heater/filtration unit, there is the theoretical possibility of contamination - of some bug breeding in there if it has not been cleaned carefully. However, the livelihood of the birth pool hire companies depends on them thoroughly cleaning their pools between hires, and they flush through with disinfectant. Many of us choose to give the pool an additional clean and flush-through when we get it.
I'm not aware of any known case of infection acquired through a birth pool at home in the UK - presumably this would be more of an issue for a hospital pool than one for home use.
I chose a rigid, heated pool for my first, then thought having the heater was a waste of money because the water temp could be maintained so easily by bucketing out some water every few hours and adding a few buckets of hot. For my 2nd baby, I had a rigid, hired pool without heater (very cheap hire), and that worked fine. However, that was when we were living in a house with a great water supply - a conventional gas boiler plus two storage tanks, which meant hot water on demand, at a good flow rate.
For my 3rd I was lent the Gentlewater pool on a review basis and it was gorgeous - we filled it up and left it ready and it was such a relief to know I didn't need to worry about the pool at all.
In my fourth labour I had a rigid pool without a heater - it belonged to a friend and was beautiful and had great sentimental value, but unfortunately it didn't have a heater! We'd moved by this time and it turned out our boiler wasn't working properly (I only discovered this in labour) and we had to fill from the immersion heater, which just couldn't do the job - so DH ended up spending lots of my labour doing the traditional male job of boiling water! Not such an issue if you have a reliable boiler and a birth partner who will be able to organise filling the pool for you, but if yours is the sort of house where *you* do all the practical stuff then it is worth considering. My DH works long hours and I'm in charge of plumbing and DIY, so there's a limit to what I can expect him to deal with when I'm labouring.
After this, DH insisted we had to get a heated pool for the next baby, and having spent several hours shivering in knee-deep lukewarm water (I still felt I needed to be in there), I agreed. I was lent a Hello Baby pool for Athena's birth, and again, it was *such* a relief to have the pool assembled, heated and ready to go. Particularly as, after 4 previous labours of 8-10 hours, I had a very fast labour, and gave birth only an hour and a half after waking up. I would not have had time to fill the pool, and would have been spending my precious labouring time focussing on a pool rather than on labouring, if I hadn't had a heated one.
I was so glad to be able to get into that pool once labour started hotting up! As it happened I was only in there for 20 minutes, though..
I enjoyed using my heated pools for late-night relaxation in late pregnancy, once the kids were in bed. Last time I liked to lean over the side and listen to music and practise my relaxation and hypnotherapy visualisations. If you make good use of a hire pool before labour then I think it can be reassurance if you don't end up using it on the day - you still feel you got value out of it! On the other hand, if you buy an inflatable one you will get much more value out of it as a paddling pool.
Each of my babies was born with me kneeling up and hanging on the side of the pool for a lot of the time, so I like the idea of a rigid pool with sides which are narrow enough to grip, but strong enough to push against. I also like the fact that you can move anywhere in the pool and still have the same facilities for holding the side. Your choice of position is not dictated by the position of the handles, or whether you can firmly grasp the rim of the pool. Some of the inflatable birth pools have grab handles, and some have more than others, but you are slightly limited by where the handles are. Some people love draping themselves over the thick wall of the inflatables, while others want something firm to hold on to.
One thing I liked about the big hire pools is they are big enough that if you want to get away from everyone, they hopefully can't reach you if you're in the middle.
The Gentlewater and Hello Baby pools have a padded rim, which is lovely to rest your neck on or lean over - without that, I've ended up with piles of soggy towels and bath cushions everywhere. This isn't an issue with inflatables, but it is with some of the rigid pools. On the other hand, I know some women who love the look of the Birthworks wooden hexagonal pools, for instance, and feel it is important for their comfort in labour that they don't find the birth pool aesthetically offensive.
I have heard several midwives rave about the new Birth Pool In a Box, and especially about the built-in handles, seat and variable-height sides - it is great value. We've had a lot of HomebirthUK members who've used them, and La Bassine - if you do a search of the archives you'll find plenty of people commenting on them.
One of the things which people have often commented about the inflatables is how comfortable it is having an inflatable base to kneel on. On the other hand - some women have said that they don't like an inflatable base because they don't feel 'grounded' and because their knees sink into the grooves in the base between the inflatable channels.
Certainly with a rigid pool you do need to be prepared with the base, because if you spend a lot of time on your knees then you could end up very sore if you don't plan ahead. I've always added extra padding under the liners of the rigid pools I've used - carpet underlay, or an old duvet - to get more softness under the knees. Last time I put a double duvet on the floor under the liner, and that was great. The liner was a bit wrinkled, but that was OK.
I think an important factor is just whether you think you'd feel comfortable in any design or not, and this will be very individual - some women love the enclosed, 'secure' feeling of being in a big inflatable pool, whille some would find it claustrophobic. Some would feel exposed in a big, rigid pool, while others feel free and secure there.
The colour of the liner can be important, too; some pools have a white base to aid visibility for the midwives. While many women would not have a problem with that, I would feel very uncomfortable in a pale pool; I want to feel private and cocooned, and frankly, I don't *want* visibility; if there was a problem which warranted the midwives getting involved, I'd get out of the pool. But maybe that's just me.
Most pools have some shade of blue liner, and women have reported that this can affect how comfortable they feel in labour, too; for some people, colour can have an effect on your state of mind. One mother found a birth pool with a grey interior a bit depressing, while another commented that she found the sky blue of hers uplifting. I liked the dark blue of the last pool I used, because it was like sinking into a midnight sky - private and dark and very Odent-style I suppose!
What's your gut reaction when looking at each type of pool? I don't think it's really possible to generalise in favour of one over the other. For every single birth pool on the market, at some stage we've had someone on the HomebirthUK group who's adored it. I think people are reticent about criticising pools they haven't liked because they don't want to offend anyone, but any pool with a major problem would not last long in this competitive market. We are really lucky to have so much choice.
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