ACOG recommends that a hospital or birthing center within a hospital complex are the "safest setting" for labor and delivery.
About 10 percent of all hospitals and up to 90 percent of birthing centers nationwide offer as an option water births, as opposed to "land births," according to Waterbirth International, whose motto is, "Easier for moms…Better for Babies."
Waterbirth Executive Director Barbara Harper turned to water birth 25 years ago with her second and third children after a bad experience during her first child's hospital birth. She had seen an article extolling its virtues in the "National Enquirer."
"I took it home to my partner and said, 'I think I can have another baby,'" she told ABCNews.com. "I wouldn't even consider having another baby the way it was done in 1978."
"I was drugged against my will, tied down with leather straps with my feet in the stirrups," said Harper. "They even gave me an episiotomy after the baby was born so the residents could practice."
All this, as Harper was working as a nurse at that California hospital. She later turned to midwifery and began advocating and educating women about water births.
"In nutshell, it takes the pain of childbirth away if the woman is prepared in her mind, because having a child happens between the ears and not the legs," said Harper.
"Water allows the mother to move, to take all the pressure of her back and legs and get into a physiological position to allow the baby to do its work," she said. "A thousand hands are holding her up."
At least eight studies of nearly 3,000 women comparing water to regular births have shown that women need less pain relief in a water birth, according to obstetrician Gaudet.
Overall, most comparisons between water and land births had the same outcomes for mothers and their babies, she said.
One Italian study published in 2005 by the National Institutes of Health showed a lower episiotomy rate, shorter first stage of labor and no increased rate of infection.
In another comparison of water births to land births by British researchers in 2009, showed a reduction in the use of epidural and spinal pain relief.
Harper, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., does caution that water temperature must be monitored.
"We don't like it more than 100 degrees, for the baby's sake," she said. "The baby can't discharge heat and get stressed. Mothers are usually comfortable between 92 and 98 degrees."
"The baby doesn't breathe air until it comes into the air," said Harper. "It grows in fluid and comes out in fluid. We leave the babies underwater for a few seconds. I watch specifically as the baby emerges, after four or five seconds as its limbs make swimming motions in the water."
Babies are monitored in telemetry units in the hospital and with underwater dopplers during home births, said Harper, the author of three books on the subject, including her newest, "The Complete Guide to Water Birth."
Latasha Johnson of Palm Spring, Fla., delivered her fourth child Abioye on Jan. 9 in a water birth at her home.
"The other three children were born in the hospital, but it wasn't the most pleasant experience," said the 36-year-old. "At the time, fear over-powered logic. When you are pregnant, you don't know where to turn."