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Consulting Engineers

Anyone for a Birthing Pool?

As structural engineers, we do all of the ‘normal’ structural engineering requirements or requests as well as some niche areas that we have specialised in such as temporary works, basements and forensic engineering amongst others, however, sometimes we do get some unusual requests.

One such unusual request happened recently, when a woman phoned me to ask me to do a structural assessment of her first floor flat to ensure that it was safe for her to use a birthing pool for her planned water birth at home.

About 30% of women giving birth in England plan to use water or a birth pool for coping with pain during labour, according to a survey by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2013. This is an interesting statistic, as it makes me wonder why we do not get more enquiries relating to this, based on this information.

A typical birthing pool has the following dimensions, 1.93m x 1.65m x 0.71m deep. This typically has a capacity of 80% full, or 650 litres of water, which gives an internal depth of 0.66m. This equates to a loading over the area of the birthing pool of approximately 6.6 kN/m2 or 660kg/m2. A residential property is usually designed for a live load of 1.5 kN/m2 or 150kg/m2.

Therefore the proposed loading from the birthing pool would have been 4.4 times the normal live load allowance, which meant that it would not be possible to use the birthing pool without either strengthening the floor or propping the first floor down to the ground floor level.

Unfortunately, neither of these two options were possible in this case, as the flat below was occupied by her neighbour, and it would not have been possible to strengthen the first floor in the time-span available before the due date. The cost of strengthening the floor would also not have made it viable.

So, the final result was that she decided not to use the birthing pool and opted for a hospital birth instead, and her baby son was born a few weeks later all safe and sound.

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