Mothers and midwives in the hours after birth

3 min read
Mother with child and nurse
Image: WaterAid/ Behailu Shiferaw

From providing emotional and medical support during labour, to teaching new parents how to care for their newborns, WaterAid’s touching new photo series reveals how much midwives around the world have in common, no matter where they work.


Mother with child and nurse
Nurse Samuel with new mother Ruth and her baby in Rwanda
Image: WaterAid/ Behailu Shiferaw

New mothers and their midwives were photographed and interviewed in the hours and days immediately after birth about their experiences – from the UK and Canada, to Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Bangladesh.

While midwives in modern hospitals fill birthing pools without a thought and benefit from stringent hygiene protocols, those in many areas of the developing world may start their day with a struggle to find enough water to clean floors and bedlinens, wash their hands and offer labouring women a drink.

Midwife delivers newborn baby in Bangladesh
Midwife Bimola delivers newborn baby to mother Hera in Bangladesh
Image: WaterAid/ Al Shahriar Rupam

Yet, whether new mothers delivered in state-of-the-art hospitals or in healthcare centres without clean water, decent toilets and functioning hand basins, all shared the same joy in their new babies, and great appreciation for the midwives who helped bring those babies into the world.

In the UK, first-time mum Rebekah, who gave birth to baby James in an emergency C-section at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital said:

“The midwives have all been brilliant, they’ve been really supportive, they gave me the best advice of what’s going to be best for the baby. If I didn’t have the midwives supporting me, I would probably have been an emotional wreck.

“Everyone should have the right to basic things. Without that, you take away your dignity.”

Mother, baby and midwife in UK.
New mother Rebekah with baby James and midwife Helen in the UK
Image: WaterAid/ Anna Kari

In Malawi, first-time mother Ruth, 19, who gave birth to her baby son in the Ngokwe Health Centre in Machinga, said:

“When I was coming here, I brought with me three ‘Chitenje’ fabrics of which one is used to cover the baby, and the other two used during and after giving birth, for cleaning myself. I also brought with me a plastic wrapper used during birth to hold the water and blood… This helps to keep the bed clean, as the ward has only two beds.

“Despite facing these challenges, I was happy to have received the best care from our nurse-midwife. She was very helpful all the time. She would come even to check my and my baby’s pulse and temperature.”


Mother with baby in Malawi
First time mother Ruth with baby son in Malawi
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

In 2015, 2,100 newborns died each day from sepsis, tetanus, pneumonia or diarrhoea – all infections strongly linked to unhygienic conditions. WaterAid wants to ensure healthcare facilities everywhere have access to clean water and have adequate toilets and are committed to good hygiene practice and promotion. Yet 38% of health care facilities in developing nations do not have a water supply, 19% do not provide adequate sanitation and 35% do not have soap and water to sustain good hygiene practices.

Midwife, mother and baby in Tanzania
Midwife Daniel with baby Jafary and new mother Sada in Tanzania
Image: WaterAid/ James Kiyimba

Wherever you are in the world, clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene practice are essential for a healthy birth. The deaths of 767,000 newborns each year from infections is unacceptable, and it makes WaterAid angry, because the link between dirty conditions and neonatal deaths is something we have known how to address for more than 150 years.

As midwives gather in Toronto this month, WaterAid asks them to join our fight to make sure no woman anywhere has to give birth without access to these essentials. They understand better than anyone how important water, good sanitation and good hygiene are for healthy mothers and healthy babies. Governments and policymakers must make these a priority in delivering healthcare, and in efforts to improve the health of their people

Baby, mother and midwife in Canada
Collen with her newborn baby Soraia and midwife Joanne in Canada
Image: WaterAid/ Danielle Donders of Mothership Photography

The photo series coincides with the International Confederation of Midwives’ Congress in Toronto, Canada, where 4,000 midwives from around the world will gather from 18 June.