Water birth was a peaceful, perfect choice for mom and baby

Water births have resumed at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital for the first time since 2019. Courtney Wittwer had to go through a 38-hour labor with her first baby. Her newborn, Porter, swam into the world just three hours after Courtney and her husband arrived at the hospital.
April 19, 2024
Courtney Wittwer with her newborn son, Porter. Courtney was able to have a water birth with a midwife at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital. The experience was wonderful and peaceful. She also got to experience a much shorter labor than with her first baby. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.
Courtney Wittwer with her newborn son, Porter. A lifetime swimmer, Courtney loved having a peaceful water birth. Her labor was much shorter than with her first child, and she did not need medications. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

Courtney Wittwer had a very challenging delivery with her first baby.

The mother-to-be was more than a week overdue, so her medical team in California — where she and her husband were living at the time — eventually induced her. The medicine worked very slowly, so Courtney and her providers waited and waited. Altogether, she was in active labor for 38 hours.

Thankfully, the outcome was wonderful. Courtney and her husband, Cory Wittwer, finally welcomed a healthy, beautiful baby girl on June 14, 2022. Baylir is now on the cusp of turning 2.

When the couple was expecting their second baby, Courtney, 30, dreamed of a much shorter, more peaceful birth experience.

The Wittwers met in Colorado in 2016 and moved back recently when Courtney was 20 weeks pregnant. She immediately began researching birthing options.

A lifetime swimmer, Courtney decided she would love to give birth in the water.

“I can swim for hours and can lose myself in the water,” Courtney said.

She started swimming competitively at age 5 and continued swimming part way through college, specializing in freestyle sprint events. She later enjoyed long open water swims in northern Colorado lakes like Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins and Carter Lake in Loveland.

As Courtney pondered birthing options, she learned that midwives who support patients at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont were resuming water births this year for the first time since 2019.

Courtney chose midwife Ana Williams at the CU (University of Colorado) Center for Midwifery in Longmont, a faculty practice of the University of Colorado College of Nursing and University of Colorado Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Courtney got to be the first patient to enjoy a water birth in a large inflatable tub at Longs Peak Hospital this year.

Courtney and Cory Wittwer are the proud parents of Baylir, left, and Porter, right. They have moved to Estes Park where Cory works for the town. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.
Courtney and Cory Wittwer are the proud parents of Baylir, left, and Porter, right. They have moved to Estes Park where Cory works for the town. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

‘Mom, I did it,’ new mom exclaims after serene water birth

The experience turned out to be just what Courtney hoped for: utterly serene, natural and beautiful. With minimal help from her midwife and nurse, Courtney let her body lead the way. In a darkened room with peaceful twinkle lights and aromatherapy candles, Courtney floated and shifted positions frequently, letting the water soothe her as she worked through each contraction.

Just three hours after arriving at the hospital, she gave one last, big push, felt her baby’s head emerge, then gently eased the infant out of her body and to the surface.

She and Cory quickly learned their baby was a boy — a surprise they had saved for the birth. Thrilled, they named their baby Porter.

“Mom, I did it!” Courtney exclaimed seconds after Porter’s arrival. Along with Cory and her medical team, Courtney’s mom had been there to support her during labor.

Not only did the Wittwers get to welcome a healthy new baby into the world. Courtney also got to experience the peaceful birth she had imagined.

“Water is almost a second home to me. It’s very relaxing for me to be in the water,” she said. “I had seen water births on Instagram, and that sounded more exhilarating and natural to me.”

Her husband, Cory, loved seeing how happy and calm his wife was the second time.

“Compared to the first birth, it was completely the opposite experience,” Cory said. “Going in, I didn’t have many expectations. I knew she wanted to be in a tub.

“But it was the most peaceful, primal experience,” Cory said. “It was natural, and there was more emotion because she wasn’t exhausted.”

Water births decrease pain, shorten labor and reduce C-section rates, among other benefits

Courtney Wittwer with daughter Baylir, left, and son, Porter, right. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.
Courtney Wittwer with daughter Baylir, left, and son, Porter, right. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

Williams, who is a certified nurse-midwife and a lactation consultant, said Courtney did a beautiful job.

“She got into the tub. She pushed. She let it happen. We were there if she needed more support,” said Williams, who has been a midwife for 28 years.

Like many patients who give birth in the water, Courtney felt empowered both during her labor and after the birth. That’s typical of a water birth, Williams said.

“We really trust the body and the baby. If people need interventions, we can intervene. Otherwise we give a lot of space for the birth to evolve naturally,” she said.

Along with Longs Peak Hospital, midwives with CU College of Nursing clinics also support patients who are giving birth at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital.

Williams said there are many benefits of water births, including:

  • Shorter labors
  • Decreased blood pressure during birth
  • Decreased rates of anxiety and pain
  • Reduced need for pain medications
  • Increased mobility during labor and after the birth
  • Improved breastfeeding after the birth
  • Faster recovery after the birth
  • Decreased Cesarean-section rates

“We know water relaxes people, and they are much less likely to use anesthesia or analgesics. Patients release more of their own endorphins in the water,” Williams said.

“And for the baby, it’s super gentle. The baby is in water in the uterus then comes out into warm water in the tub,” she said.

A water birth in a hospital is a wonderful option if a patient wants an unmedicated birth or is considering a home birth but wants additional help available in case complications arise.  Midwives can support the patient’s goal of delivering the baby in water, but obstetricians and pediatric experts always are standing by in case a patient or newborn needs a higher level of care.

“Midwives are experts in normal births. Ours is one of the oldest professions in the world,” said Williams, who is also a senior instructor for the CU College of Nursing.

“We’re trained to recognize when anything deviates from normal. In those cases, we can consult and collaborate with colleagues as needed,” she said.

Courtney Wittwer breastfeeding her son, Porter, as daughter, Baylir stands nearby. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.
Courtney Wittwer breastfeeding her son, Porter, as daughter, Baylir stands nearby. Courtney was pleased that breastfeeding went well right after Porter was born. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

Who is eligible for a water birth?

To be eligible for a water birth, patients need to be low-risk.

“If patients develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy, they can’t have a water birth,” Williams said.

Midwives spend considerable time discussing birthing options with patients during their prenatal visits.

“We operate from the point of view that we are partners in a person’s care. Shared decision making is fundamental to the care that we provide. We really trust the body and the baby as being very wise. We’re expert in letting the body do its thing without unnecessary interventions,” Williams said.

Some people assume that they can’t receive pain medications during birth if a midwife cares for them, but that’s not true, Williams said.

Midwives can provide patients with epidurals if they want anesthesia or pain relievers via an IV.

Some patients want to avoid pain medications altogether so both they and the baby can be more alert during and after the birth.

“That’s often the kind of person who will seek care through a midwife,” Williams said.

But choices are at the heart of the care that midwives provide.

“We support people with whatever kind of birth they want,” Williams said.

She and many other midwives also are certified lactation consultants, so they can assist nurses in supporting patients with breastfeeding following the birth. Breastfeeding is often easier for patients who have uncomplicated births.

“Longs Peaks staffers are great supporters of breastfeeding,” Williams said. “We do skin-to-skin contact right away. We delay cord clamping. We don’t take babies away to give medications right after birth. All of that happens no matter what kind of birth you have.”

Soothing, warm water and a hands-off approach created a comforting birthing environment

For Courtney, combining her love of water with the birth of her son proved to be a perfect combination.

“Labor is still painful, of course, but being in the water and having my midwife there with me was perfect,” she said.

Courtney’s contractions started increasing the night before the birth.

“My goal was to labor at home until I needed to go to the hospital,” Courtney said.

That evening, she updated Williams twice — once around 9 p.m. to let her know that the contractions were regular and coming faster — and again at about 11 p.m.

By midnight, Courtney and Cory headed into the hospital.

“We got there, and they checked me once,” Courtney said.

She was already progressing well and little Porter was in excellent shape. So, Courtney was able to get into the tub and respond as her contractions grew more intense.

“It was very relaxing. I wasn’t hooked up to any monitors. It just felt very natural for me to be in the water,” Courtney said.

Mostly, she wanted to be left alone to quietly cope with the labor.

“Their hands-off approach was the best for me.”

As for Cory, just knowing he was there was perfect. Courtney didn’t need him to say anything in particular. He just held his wife’s hand, occasionally massaged her back and marveled at her strength.

Then Porter arrived, weighing 8 pounds 10 ounces, and Courtney was in awe, both of her newborn and of how the experience had gone.

“It was so quick. It was a completely different experience. His birth was just magical,” Courtney said. “Being able to pull him out of the water and straight to my chest gave us that instant connection. I held him up and said, ‘It’s a boy!’ It was such a surreal moment.”

After Porter arrived, Courtney’s team helped her out of the tub and into an adjacent bed. She delivered the placenta and only had minor tearing.

Porter quickly latched to Courtney’s breasts.

“I’ve been lucky. I had success with breastfeeding right away with both babies. I breastfed Baylir until she was 16 months old,” Courtney said.

These days, the family has moved up to Estes Park, where Cory works for the town. Baylir loves exploring her new mountain surroundings and being a big sister. Porter, too, is growing and thriving.

Cory Wittwer with daughter, Baylir, posing at a creek near the family's home in Estes Park. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.
Cory Wittwer with daughter, Baylir, posing at a creek near the family’s home in Estes Park. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

Courtney’s advice about water births: ‘give it a try’

Altogether, with Baylir’s birth, Courtney spent five days in the hospital. With Porter, Courtney barely had to be in the hospital. She was eager to head home soon after her son arrived.

When she thinks back on the experience, she remembers being relaxed, not stressed.

“I liked the quiet cheering. My midwife did a great job of creating a calm setting. I only had my midwife, my nurse, my mom and my husband. They let my body do its thing.”

For others who might be interested in a water birth, Courtney urges them to consider their options.

“It was just perfect,” she said. “They let me and my body work. It was very empowering. I encourage anyone who wants to have a water birth to give it a try.”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.