Home birthing moms take note — there has been a recent link between home water births and infants developing Legionnaires’ disease.
Legionnaires’ disease is a life-threatening form of pneumonia and two infants in Arizona were infected within months of each other last year. Even though a full 28,000 infants are born per year with a birth injury, an infection among heated water births is quite rare. However, Arizona public health officials decided to investigate the circumstances surrounding these infant births because the children were both only a couple weeks old when diagnosed.
Previously, there has only been one case of Legionnaires’ disease in an infant in the United States, back in 2014. The child was born in a heated home water birth, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped in to figure out the exact root of these mysterious diagnoses in the Arizona babies.
They found that the first infant was delivered in a home birthing tub filled with tap water at room temperature. The tub had been cleaned immediately before delivery with water and vinegar, and the mother was only in the water for an hour before the delivery. The following day the baby was rushed to the hospital in severe respiratory distress and the doctors found fluid in its lungs, a clear sign of pneumonia.
The second baby was delivered in a Jacuzzi tub a few months later, with week-old tap water that was heated to a temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit. At three days old, this child was also rushed to the hospital, but this time had a fever of 101 degrees and an X-ray that showed spots on the lungs.
Thankfully, both children were diagnosed with Legionella exceptionally quickly, and both survived after treatment with antibiotics.
Home births are exceptionally popular, and even more so if the expecting mom is one of the 21 million Americans who owns a pool or hot tub. While this convenience is great for many parents looking for a holistic way to bring their child into the world, doctors say the danger lies in the tap water.
Tap water is not treated, and warm water makes for the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. In the case of both babies, the Legionella grew within their home’s plumbing pipes and the short exposure time was enough to wreck havoc on the infants’ underdeveloped immune system.
Doctors at the Arizona hospital give life-saving credit to the same infectious disease specialist who treated both infants. The doctor, who has not been named, treated and diagnosed the first infant, and was able to find similarities with the cases when she found out the second baby was also delivered by a home water birth.
“She was so astute,” Tammy Sylvester, the co-manager of infectious disease epidemiology at the Maricopa County health department, explained to the Chicago Tribune. “She’s the one who picked up on the fact that these were both at-home water births and that we need to look into this to find out what’s going on.”
This specialist was quick to point out that even though the need for warm water is crucial in a home birth, the risk for infection can be severely reduced by running hot water through the hose for three minutes before filling the tub. This way the hose will be cleared of disease-ridden stagnant water and debris.
As a whole, home births have been gaining notoriety within the past few decades all across the nation. Just last October, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have noted that this birth method can give some advantages to the pregnant mother. However, this was formulated as an opinion of the ACOG’s obstetric practice committee, as the safety and efficiency of water immersion during delivery have not been officially established.