Dolphin midwives are catching on in some circles, but medical experts worry just how safe it is to have wild animals, pregnant women and newborns together.
From water births to aroma-therapy births to births under hypnosis, couples often go to great lengths to give their babies what they think is the best possible entrance into this world.
Now you can add births with a dolphin "midwife" to that list.
Adam and Heather Barringer are planning on having a dolphin-assisted birth in Hawaii in July.
The Barringers, from Charlotte, N.C., have made one trip to the Sirius Institute in Pohoa, Hawaii, in preparation for the birth, according to The Charlotte Observer, and will return around Heather's due date.
The institute, which aims to "dolphinize" the planet by connecting dolphins with humans in all walks of life, including childbirth, bonds dolphins with expecting mothers and their families. The organization's founder partner, Star Newland, told MSN News that while Sirius has helped deliver over 20 healthy babies, no dolphins were present at any of those births. Newland attributed this to the dolphins' hunting activities, which occur late at night, the same time as when most of Sirius' mothers have given birth. The institute does not use captive dolphins and does not charge any money for its services, Newland said.
"We reasonably and consistently offer pre-birth dolphin contact," Newland said.
Dolphin-assisted births the latest parenting craze
She said her organization typically takes mothers out in "pods," groups of expecting women, and has them swim and interact with dolphins.
"When they go out they're at ease, comfortable and have a sense of security about life and birth," she said. "If a mom is going to have a good birth experience, it influences the baby's life for ever more and it influences the life of everyone that baby comes in contact with."
Newland said one of Sirius' goals is interspecies communication; it especially likes to team pregnant mothers with pregnant dolphins.
"It's exciting work in terms of our future and how we relate to other intelligent species," she said. While Sirius recommends a three month stay in Hawaii for mothers to fully familiarize themselves with the animals, moms-to-be are welcome to come and go as they please. Sirius has a team of "pod" physicians and midwives on call if the women are to give birth in Hawaii.
Video: Interview with the couple
The Barringers believe the presence of dolphins during Heather's delivery will bring not only serenity for her and the child, but also a connection between humankind and the animal kingdom.
"It is about reconnecting as humans with the dolphins so we can coexist in this world together and learn from one another," Heather told the Observer.
"Having that connection with the pod of dolphins anytime — even if the birth doesn’t happen in the water — still brings peace, comfort and strength to the mother and baby during labor," she added.
While the Barringers are enthusiastic about their chosen method of birth, medical and animal experts believe it's potentially harmful to the mother, child and even the dolphins involved.
Dolphins have been known to ram people. Naomi Rose, a senior scientist at the Humane Society, was dazed and stunned when she was rammed and slapped by two, 300-plus-pound dolphins, according to the Digital Journal.
Dolphins also routinely kill baby porpoises and baby sharks, and some believe they even kill the offspring of rival male dolphins.
Doctors shudder at the possibility of a dolphin around an expecting mother and her newborn child.
"They're essentially giving birth in water with a large wild animal right there with access to their baby" said Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and animal behavior expert at Emory University. "It's a losing proposition for everyone."
Marino's research projects and studies have found no evidence that dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT), typically used to help children with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, is a legitimate counseling method or provides anything more than a fleeting improvement in mood.
Very often, Marino said, trainers and participants are injured in therapy and swimming programs involving dolphins. They sustain head injuries, broken ribs and are sometimes bitten. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation organization has called for a complete ban on DAT, and Research Autism has advised the public that it can be harmful.
"People have a mythology about dolphins where they believe because dolphins are midwifes for each other, they want to be midwifes to us," Marino said. "It's all mumbo-jumbo. There's no evidence and it's a tremendous risk."