Historically, women labored surrounded by other experienced women. It was not unusual to have someone by their side throughout labor and well after the delivery of the infant. However, with more women choosing to birth in hospitals, there is a lack of continuous support during labor.
In a Cochrane Review, researchers examined 26 studies from 17 countries, for a total of more than 15,000 women in a wide range of settings. For this review, the researchers defined continuous support as a person who is present solely to provide support for the woman, is not a member of the woman's own network, and is experienced in providing labor support.
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The studies illustrated that women who had continuous birth support were less likely to need pain medications. Additionally, they had a lower risk of cesarean section and required fewer interventions, such as forceps. Finally, women with continuous support were more likely to have shorter labors, and be more satisfied with their birthing experience.
Equally important was the effect that continuous labor support had on newborns. The review showed that women who had ongoing support had babies with higher Apgar scores, the tool used to determine babies' health and well-being after birth, at 5 minutes post-birth.
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This review might shed some light on the 2012 study that demonstrated that woman take longer to give birth today than they did 50 years ago. In fact, the typical first-time mother now takes 6 ½ hours to give birth, as compared to four hours only a half-decade ago.
"Supportive care during labor may enhance physiological labor processes, as well as women's feelings of control and confidence in their own strength and ability to give birth. This may reduce the need for obstetric intervention and also improve women's experiences." said lead study author Meghan Bohren, a researcher with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.