If you are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant soon, chances are you have already thought about who you would like to be in the delivery room with you. Labor support is an important part of any new parents’ birth plan. You want to be sure that you have the emotional support you need in the delivery room with you no matter if that’s in a traditional hospital, a birthing center, or at home.

I was lucky enough to give birth with my husband in attendance for two out of three of my births. He is active duty military, so I know that I am one of the lucky few that was able to have him with me when my babies were born (he missed my third daughter’s birth by about 15 minutes but that is another story for another time!).

Looking back at my three births, especially my third one, I completely regret not have continuous labor support in the form of a doula. With my first daughter, I was put on oxygen during active labor and it terrified me. The nurses didn’t really tell me why; they just quickly put it on me and told me my daughter’s heart rate was dropping. It was scary but as a new mom, I trusted them and didn't ask any questions.

With my third baby, I labored alone. It was scary to say the least. I was in the triage room with contraction after contraction, with little to no rest in between, for over 20 minutes before I finally opened the door, basically naked, and yelled for a nurse to please come help me. The lack of labor support for that third delivery made it one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. Although I felt strong and powerful after my daughter arrived, and I am now proud to tell the story, it is still something that I look back on wishing I had someone there with me. I vividly remember being in the delivery room and a nurse walking by, seeing me alone, and coming into the room to help me push- that was the only personal support I had.

What is labor support?

Labor support is defined as any person that is with you during childbirth whose “role is to help you stay comfortable, move through your birthing process, remind you that what's happening is normal and healthy and give you information about your care,” according to Childcare Connection. In some cases this person might be a professional doula or birth specialist but it can also be a partner, spouse, family member, or friend with whom you have shared your ideal birthing process. You will want to make sure that your labor support has attended birthing classes and understands your wants and needs if you plan to use someone who is not a professional or who is not certified in labor support.

Different types of labor support

There are several different types of labor support. The most common type of labor support usually comes from a partner or a spouse. You can also find labor support in family members or friends.

Additionally, labor support can come from a birth doula or even a midwife. If you are in a traditional hospital setting, your labor support may come from a labor and delivery nurse.

Most birthing professionals, and even many scientific researchers, will agree that continuous labor support is the most effective way to ensure that you have a positive labor experience. Many times partners, spouse, friends, family members, and even labor and delivery nurses aren’t able to provide continuous labor support. This is often because there is an inherent conflict of interest- if the person is a family member or close friend their focus on usually on you and/or the baby’s health. It is difficult to separate themselves from their personal feelings and provide the birthing mother the proper support she needs.

A labor and delivery nurse, although well equipped medically and experientially, is often distracted with the birthing mother’s needs as a patient. They may have other patients to attend to as well, so they cannot be there for the entirety of the labor experience.

Why you should consider getting a doula as your labor support

One of the best ways to get continuous labor support throughout your birthing process is to hire a doula. According to DONA.org a doula is defined as “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”

A doula will be able to provide continuous support throughout your birthing process. Their experience and their knowledge will help to give you the emotional and spiritual support that you need to help your birth go as smoothly as possible.

However, it is important to recognize that a doula does not take the place of your labor partner. Your labor partner, often a spouse or family member, is there to help you labor though your contractions and be a part of the birthing experience with you. It is difficult for a labor partner to offer continuous labor support like a doula is able to provide. In fact, a good doula will not only provide labor support to you but they will also provide labor support to your partner by offering ways to help you progress through the birthing process as well as be the emotional and spiritual support both of you may need.

Research has found that continuous labor support in the form of a professional doula can be extremely beneficial to birthing mothers. In a review of research by the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, it was found that women with continuous one-to-one support are less likely to have a cesarean section, give birth with a vacuum or forceps, have regional analgesia (i.e., an epidural) or any pain medication, or report negative feelings or emotions about their birthing experience.

Two other reviews of that same research found similar findings (Leslie & Storton, 2007; Simkin & O'Hara, 2002). They also found that “continuous support is more effective when the person providing it is not part of the hospital staff than when it is provided by staff members such as nurses or midwives.” They also found that continuous labor support was most helpful for low-income women who would have labored alone if there was no doula present.

How to ensure you get the labor support you need when the delivery day comes

Even if you hire a doula, you still want to be sure that you get the labor support you need when it comes to the day of delivery. The best way to do that is by communicating with everyone who will be in the delivery room about your wants and your needs. Even though a doula is a professional who is trained to recognize your needs during the birthing process, it is still a good idea to express to him or her what your ideal birth experience would look like. It is also important to discuss different outcomes of the birthing experience (i.e., emergency c-section, when to go to the hospital if birthing at home, etc) and how you would like those situations to play out in an ideal situation.

It is also important to discuss with your labor partner how you want the birth experience to go and what role you would like them to play. Many labor partners will want to be a strong part of the birth experience, so be sure to talk about how both of you seeing the day go before it arrives. But also keep in mind that unforeseen situations can arise, and that labor and delivery doesn’t always go as planned.

How much does a labor doula cost?

One of the biggest issues stopping families from hiring professional continuous labor support is the cost. Some health insurances will cover a portion of a doula’s cost for labor and delivery. Some hospitals and birthing centers also offer low-cost options for families. Explore the different options in your area, and contact your health insurance to see if they offer any coverage for a birth doula.

If you are not able to afford a professional birthing doula for continuous labor support you can still discuss with your labor partner how they can best support you during the birth. You may want to invite another family member or friend to be in the delivery room with you for additional support or so your labor partner can focus on specific needs that you may have throughout the birthing process. Although continuous labor support in the delivery room (or your living room) is ideal, it is not always possible. Simply do what you can with the people you have to support you to create a magical experience for you, your baby, and your partner.

To find a doula near you, ask your childbirth educator or your health care provider for referrals. You can also visit DONA International to see if there is one located near you.

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