In a region replete with hot springs and spas of every — description, there's another creative way to utilize the healing power — of water: a home water birth. Women who birth their babies in water lend — a whole new meaning to the phrase, "go with the flow."

While water births have been gaining popularity in the — United States for the past few decades, the concept isn't new. The first — recorded water birth took place in 1803 in France, when a woman who had — been in labor for forty-eight hours climbed into a tub of warm water to — relax. Her baby was born shortly afterward.

In the 1960s, Russian scientist Igor Charcovsky began — experimenting with the use of warm water immersion to see how it affected — labor, birth, and newborn behavior. In the 1970s, Michel Odent, M.D., — opened a water birth clinic in France. During the same period, some families — in both North America and Russia chose to birth in the warm waters of — the Caribbean and Black Seas, respectively. Interest in the idea of birthing — in water gradually spread around the world.

Here in Ashland, certified nurse midwife/nurse practitioner — Linda Lieberman, who has been a fixture on the local home birth scene — since 1987, began offering water births in the 1990s.

"I knew water birth was an emerging practice among home — birthing families and home birth practitioners," says Lieberman. She's — attended births in tents and tipis, trailers and yurts, and while she's — quite comfortable with unusual settings and circumstances, customizing — birth in the home is her specialty - and passion.

"Bringing a child into the world is an experience that — deserves our efforts to make it unique and authentic," she says. "It's — important for each family to consider how miraculous and individual their — birth experience will be, and to find a provider who will honor their — choices."

Why does water work so well as a birth medium? One of — the biggest blessings for expectant mothers is that it reduces pain. Immersion — in water close to 98 degrees (body temperature is 98.6) relaxes muscles — in the pelvis and vagina and improves blood flow to all parts of the body, — so there is usually no need for medication.

Water birthing also enables the baby to transition into — life peacefully. Babies often do not cry, says Lieberman, or they cry — briefly and then stop.

"They come into their bodies more easily."

This relaxed transition facilitates bonding between mother — and child, because the water is similar to the baby's natural environment — of the previous nine months.

Finally, home water births are cost effective, no small — issue considering the high medical premiums charged for managed care. —

"A major benefit of using water for labor and/or birth — is the reduction in the use of epidural anesthesia and narcotic medication, — which is administered frequently in hospital labors, and can pass to the — baby before birth," Lieberman explains.

The cost for an epidural at Anesthesia Associates in Medford, — for example, is $700 per injection - if the patient has Blue Cross/Blue — Shield health insurance. If she uses another insurance provider, anesthesia — costs are generally calculated by the hour, and can run as high as $3,000 — if labor is long.

Then there's the cost of the hospital stay itself. An — overnight stay in the birthing center at Rogue Valley Medical Center runs — $6,500.

Fortunately, water births are catching on, even in hospitals. — Ashland Community Hospital offers water birth, currently only with physicians.

Lieberman encourages the families who contact her to "invest — in water" for their labor and birth at home. Her system includes a $20 — "Ocean Reef" kiddie pool that can comfortably accommodate a woman and — her partner, a high quality hose to bring pure hot water for keeping the — pool warm, and a tarp to protect the floors in the home. The pool she — uses is baffled, meaning that the cushioned air pocket design enhances — comfort. However, she adds, births certainly can and do take place in — the bathtub. She has assisted at a number of water births right in the — client's bathroom.

Lieberman is somewhat unusual among nurse midwives/nurse — practitioners in that she maintains an independent practice. Most nurse — midwives today, she notes, opt to work in a hospital setting or in tandem — with physicians. The need for Siskiyou Women's Health Care is evident, — however: one pregnant woman traveled from Montana last year in order to — birth with Lieberman, whom she located through the Internet.