Feb. 2, 2010— -- Breaking from a culture where hospital births are the norm and Caesarian rates are the highest in the world, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen chose to deliver her son Benjamin in her own bathtub.
Wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Bundchen is one of a growing number of women who are embracing water birth, touted as a gentler way to bring a baby into the world.
And well-respected studies show water birth helps with mom's labor pains, too.
Today in the United States, as in Brazil, natural childbirth is a medical anomaly. But here, a small, but growing number of women are choosing water births over medication and pain-blocking epidurals.
Bundchen told the Boston Globe she prepared for her Dec. 8, 2009 delivery with yoga and meditation and "didn't want to be all drugged up" when she gave birth.
While birthing in warm water isn't new, Bundchen's high-profile home delivery brings a lot more splash to the concept.
"If you think about it, it makes sense philosophically," said Dr. Tracy Gaudet, an obstetrician and executive director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.
"Think about the fetus living in water. Instead of going from the dark, warm water environment to the sudden shock of the outside in that moment of birth, there's a more gradual transition," she said.
In a water birth, mothers sit waist-deep in water heated to simulate body temperature through labor and delivery. Within seconds of the baby emerging, the midwife or doctor brings its head above water.
The cord can be cut in or out of water, depending on a woman's choice.
While Gaudet has never delivered a baby in water, she said she would be "game" to try. "It's a little gentler and kinder to the baby," she told ABCNews.com.
She advises that if the water birth is at home, midwives have a back-up plan.
"I am open-minded, but I've seen enough things go bad and you have to have a plan A, B and C," said Gaudet. "Labor and delivery is hopefully perfectly normal and a positive experience, but things don't always go as planned."
In an interview with Brazil's news feature show "Fantastico," Bundchen described the eight-hour birth of her son in the couple's Beacon Hill penthouse. She said she was influenced by the 2008 documentary, "The Business of Being Born," an argument for natural childbirth produced by television personality Ricki Lake.
Home Births in Minority
Ana Paula Markel, who was quoted in the film, is a friend of Bundchen's who works as a doula, or childbirth assistant, in Los Angeles. She has said that Bundchen's decision could persuade other women to consider a water birth.
Other celebrities who had home deliveries include actress Alyson Hannigan, model Cindy Crawford, singer Erykah Badu, actress Maria Bello, and another Bundchen friend, Michelle Alves, a Brazilian model and the wife of Madonna's manager Guy Oseary.
Only one percent of all births in the U.S. are at home, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Induction rates rose 5 percent in 2005 to 22.3 percent of all births -- double the rate since 1990, according to the center. Caesarean deliveries have also jumped -- to more than 30 percent of all births, a 46 percent rise in the last decade and a 4 percent increase over the 2004 record.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recommend water births, although it is described in its consumer publication, "Your Pregnancy and Birth."
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.
Studies Say Water Births Ease Pain
"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."
Fourth Childbirth in Water Was Easiest
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."
Doctors were urging Johnson, a vegan who practices yoga, to have a Caesarean, even though her previous births had been vaginal. "It didn't agree with my way of life," she said.
"But my intuition was telling me to find another solution," said Johnson, who found a midwife and purchased a $28 birthing pool online.
Everyone in the family was present at the birth, "except the dog, who was locked in a room."
Her five-hour birth went easily, as her husband reheated pots of water on the stove and added them to the pool, where Johnson sat waist deep.
"I felt more confident giving birth, more relaxed and not nervous in the comfort of my home," she said. "I basically waited until could take it any longer and got into the water."
"It was a whole amazing experience," said Johnson. "It was a lot different from the children born in the hospital in the cold dry air and bright light. My water baby went from water to water, with no bright lights. It was peaceful and relaxing."
Here are some birthing centers that specialize in water birth:
AquaNatal Birth Center, Inc. in Chino, Calif.
Baby Love Birth Center in Cape Coral, Fla.
Nativiti Women's Health & Birth Center in The Woodlands, Texas.