Birthing pool safety fears as baby dies from Legionnaires’ disease

Public Health England warning after deadly bacteria found in heated birthing-pool water

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The safety of some birthing pools is again being called into question after US authorities reported the case of a baby who of Legionnaires’ disease, a few weeks after being born in a heated birthing pool. This follows other recent cases, in both the UK and France, of birthing-pool-born babies catching the potentially deadly bacterial infection.

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Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England have released a warning, advising mums-to-be not to use birthing pools with built-in heaters and recirculation pumps – the sort of birthing pool that’s often used in home births and can be filled with water several days before the baby’s due.

The warning was issued in June this year when it became clear that a British baby, born at home in one of these pools, had acquired Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection – and the source of the infection was identified as Legionella bacteria in the pool’s water.

It was the first reported case in the UK of Legionnaires’ disease being linked to a birthing pool. But, after conducting a series of tests on the water in heated birthing pools, the PHE reinforced their advice in late July.

PHE experts said they have “serious concerns about the safety of heated birthing pools in the home setting and the potential for contamination from a number of organisms which are recognised causes of infection, and pose particular risks to newborn babies. It is our recommendation that heated birthing pools (incorporating both a re-circulation pump and heater), filled in advance of labour, should not be used for labour or birth at home.

But, added PHE’s Professor Nick Phin, birthing pools filled from domestic hot water systems once labour starts – the majority of home birthing pools – do not pose the same risk as pools filled in advance, and are not included in the alert. Nor are the fixed birthing pools used in hospitals.

Midwives and local authorities have been contacted about the PHE advice. If you have concerns about using birthing pools, do talk to your midwife or local maternity unit.

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