How to Support the Autonomy of Motherbaby in Second Stage of Waterbirth

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 98, Summer 2011.
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To prepare for an autonomous waterbirth, a woman should know the specific quality of contractions in each stage of birth. The second stage of a waterbirth is indicated by prolonged breaks, up to 10 or 15 minutes, and changing fluid intake. Many laboring women drink tea or juice during the first stage, but demand fresh water at the beginning of the second stage. Having the woman soak in slightly cooler water will help relieve an early urge to push; the baby’s heartbeat won’t drop and the safety of motherbaby will be supported during birth. Finally, a prolonged crowning and birth of shoulders caused by a stable placenta supply will enable mother and baby to come to initial eye-to-eye and skin contact.

In a waterbirth, a newborn is able to use his prenatal abilities. Water against drawing gravity, skin contact for orientation and light for his first loving view into mum’s eyes can speed up motor and sensory development for months.

The birth environment is essential to supporting motherbaby autonomy. In a waterbirth, a newborn is able to use his prenatal abilities. Water against drawing gravity, skin contact for orientation and light for his first loving view into mum’s eyes can speed up motor and sensory development for months. There is no other species in the world that shows his eyes in the field of an extended eye white. For water babies, this wonderful facility helps to differentiate mother’s pupils from her face image. Water works like a magic glass, and a lamp under water helps baby to focus and recognize mother’s eyes—full of love—stimulating the onset of breastfeeding. Even the geometric shape of a circle with a dot in the center meets the inherited gift to recognize mother’s eyes, and later her nipples. What a sophisticated pattern!

A recent mother I cared for proved the wise nature of waterbirth. Angie gave birth to her second daughter in water as she did with her first, two years earlier. Both sisters were born after five hours. This very conscious mother coped well with contractions and avoided an early urge to push. Both babies had the chance to use their abilities of motor and sensory activities to steer the birth process. Only one difference gave the advantage to the second girl; in the birth tub was a lamp lightening the 33°C water. The difference was astonishing to observe! This girl focused everybody’s eyes immediately after birth! Her father realized that kissing his elder girl induced kissing lips of the one-day-old little sister! And mother recognized in this newborn the same hand signs for pee and poo as her elder sister once did at the age of 6 weeks! Even grandma noticed the intensity of eye contact with the newborn girl.

This birth once again convinced me of the importance of facilitating a birth environment for mother and newborn that stimulates perception and communication. Midwifery needs more research on the newborn’s abilities. Integrating the elements of water, light, warmth and movement as newborns teach us can help to change the respectless grip of obstetrics in both the physical and spiritual realms of birth. The gap between attachment and autonomy is founded in heedless midwifery and obstetrics. Waterbirth helps to bridge this gap. An autonomously born baby will act on his own to attach himself to his mother, family (so-called social uterus) and later, to society. Water helps midwives to become supportive leaders for the next generation through hands-off midwifery!

About Author: Cornelia Enning

Cornelia Enning has been a licensed midwife in Germany since 1972 and has attended homebirths and waterbirths since 1975. She is the founder of the German parents association "Wasserbabies" and editor of the quarterly Wasserbaby-Post. Cornelia is the author of Placenta: The Gift of Life (Motherbaby Press), as well as several books on waterbirth. She directs the German Federation of Aquapaedagogik, instructs parents in water training for newborns, and has taught waterbirth midwifery to more than 4000 midwives and obstetricians. Cornelia has two adult children and one granddaughter. View all posts by