How to Make a Portable Waterbirth Tub

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 61, Spring 2002.
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For almost three years, I have been renting out a birth tub to my clients. The entire system cost me $350. I charge $100 for one month of use, including set-up and removal. I have even set this tub up in the hospital.

I have included the supply list and set-up instructions here. I had been using a 300-gallon Rubbermaid stock tank. It’s a great size for the entire family to get in, but it can be difficult to transport. Also, this size sometimes will not fit through narrow doorways and staircases.

So I recently purchased a 150-gallon tank at Farm & Fleet. It is more maneuverable, makes exams easier, and fits in the back of a van or station wagon. I put all supplies in two big bins. I include a set-up manual in a binder with plastic (waterproof!) pages, Midwifery Today Issue 54 on waterbirth, and a bibliography of resources.

What my birth tub kit includes

  • 300-gallon stock tank (specifications: Weight—83 lbs empty; 1700 lbs full; Dimensions—63.3″ x 69″ x 25″)
  • 2 storage cases (approx. 25 gal, Rubbermaid or other to suit)
  • Blue pool liner (available at swimming pool supply stores)
  • Waterbed heater, pad and thermostat
  • Thermometer (floating kind used in swimming pools)
  • 150-foot garden hose (for filling only)
  • Faucet adapter
  • Submersible drain pump (a good one: Simer Submersible Utility Pump—Model 2305, Geyser II 1/6 horsepower)
  • Small bean bag chair
  • Cleaning supplies
  • This instruction manual

What the client needs to supply

  • Faucet adapter (if one included does not fit, which can happen especially in hospitals)
  • Drainage garden hose (long enough to reach from birth tub to toilet.)
  • Tarps and towels for floor
  • 15′ x 15′ drop cloth-white or clear plastic (Available at Lowes, Menards, etc.)
  • Small strainer or cookie rack
  • Duct (or electric) tape
  • Blanket

Set-up instructions

  1. Choose birth location. Make sure there is enough room for your midwives and a nearby electric outlet.
  2. Cover floor with tarps.
  3. Put birth tub on top of tarps.
  4. Hook up heater: The heater may go on the floor or on the inside wall of the pool. If it is on the floor, you will need to avoid this spot while in the tub.
    • Always place heating pad with the writing side up.
    • Using the duct tape, tape metal sensor rod cord to the inside wall of the tub.
    • Duct tape the tube leading to the thermostat and plug to the inside wall of the tub.
    • Drape thermostat and plug over the side of the pool so they will not be under water.
    • Do not plug in heater until the tub is full.
  5. Place beanbag chair inside the pool. Make sure it is not touching the heater. Sit in the chair and adjust its shape to your comfort. When the tub is full, the chair will hold its position and shape due to water pressure and the blue liner.
  6. Place the blue pool liner inside the tub, over the heater and beanbag chair. Allow the extra liner material to drape over the sides of the tub. The liner is very big and will drape a lot. Smooth liner inside of pool as much as possible.
  7. Wipe down the inner liner with cleaning fluid and paper towels. Someone other than the pregnant woman should do this.
  8. Place your drop cloth inside the tub and drape it as you did with the blue liner.
  9. Wipe down drop cloth with cleaning fluid and paper towels. The tub is now lined and ready to fill.

Filling instructions

It will take between 45 minutes and three hours to fill the tub depending on the size of the water heater. I recommend a few practice fillings before the actual birth. During these practice sessions, you can get in and enjoy the tub yourself!

  1. Attach garden hose to water source. Most people use their washing machine hook up, which attaches directly to the hose. To use a sink faucet, you will have to use an adapter. If your faucet does not fit the included adapter, you or the hospital staff will need to provide one. Check this out in advance.
  2. Put other end of hose in tub.
  3. Put thermometer in tub.
  4. Begin filling the tub with the hottest water available.
  5. Allow the hot water to run until it turns cold then allow the cold water to run until the temperature in the tub is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the hospital, you will not run out of hot water. Try to adjust the heat from faucet to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Turn the water off until the water heater is full again and water runs hot.
  7. Repeat steps 4–6 until the tub is 3/4 full.
  8. Plug in heater and turn thermostat to highest setting.
  9. Cover tub with a blanket when not in use.
  10. You may need to keep hose nearby or heat some water on the stove for added heat later. If you plan on delivering your baby underwater, the water temperature should not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Emptying the tub

  1. Turn off and unplug the heater.
  2. Use your own hose for emptying. This is to prevent cross-contamination, so that the filling hose can be reused.
  3. Attach one end of hose to pump.
  4. Put other end of hose in toilet. (Most toilets will automatically flush as needed during draining process. If you are concerned, try it for a short time beforehand to make sure this will work with your toilet)
  5. Put pump into birth tub. Do not put pump bottom directly against the liner. Put a strainer or a cookie rack under the tarp or lay the pump on its side.
  6. Plug pump into electric outlet.
  7. When the tub is almost empty you may need to pull at the inner liner so that the water pools around the pump.
  8. When only a small amount of water is left, unplug the pump and soak up remaining water with towels.
  9. Clean and dry the pump, liner and pool. Return everything to storage bin.

About Author: Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore is a homebirth midwife and mother of five in Iowa. She enjoys bees and goats in her free time.

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