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Why You Need a Support Person at Your Birth

Labor isn’t easy, but having a support person with you through it all can make it easier. From easing your physical discomfort to shortening the duration of your labor, a continuous labor support person provides benefits you’re not going to want to miss out on.

labor support person applying counter pressure to woman's back

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I will say it till the end of time: I couldn’t have given birth naturally or at home without my husband by my side. Birth isn’t something a woman is supposed to do in isolation. It’s one of the most physically demanding things a woman will ever do and the mental aspect is like nothing else you’ll experience.

It’s no surprise, then, that studies have shown that having a familiar, trusted support person with you from the start of labor through birth and postpartum improves outcomes, including satisfaction with the entire experience, drastically.

Positive Effects of Continuous Labor Support

A continuous labor support person has more effect on the outcomes of birth than almost any other single factor.

A support person is valuable for many reasons. The positive effects include:

  • Less likelihood of a c-section
  • Better chance of a vaginal birth
  • Shorter duration of labor
  • Decreased need for pain medication and numbing
  • Fewer assisted deliveries (i.e. using forceps or a suction device)
  • Improved newborn Apgar score at 5 minutes
  • Higher satisfaction with birth experience

Obviously, those benefits are mostly physical. But there are even more reasons to have a support person at your birth than the physical outcomes and circumstances of birth.

Before we get into those reasons, though, let’s look at who can be a labor support person.

Who “Counts” as a Labor Support Person?

You might be wondering if anyone can be a labor support person. The answer is yes…and no.

Yes, anyone you want can come to your birth and provide support to you, in whatever ways you need. That can be your husband or partner, your mom, your best friend, your sister, the nice grandma lady you met at book club…literally anyone you want.

(One caveat here is that the hospital will only let you bring a few people to your birth. At home or at a birth center, you can usually bring as many people as you want.)

Your support person (or one of them, if you want lots) can also be a doula. A birth doula is a person, usually a woman, who supports women during labor in a non-medical way. They provide physical and emotional support as well as education and advice.

To learn more about doulas, check out What is a Doula?.

Not All Labor Support People Can Achieve the Same Benefits

The “no” part of the answer is that not all labor support people can help in the same ways or help you achieve the same benefits. Anyone you know and trust can likely provide some degree of emotional support. But you’re going to need more help than that.

Doulas are the ones who achieve the best results when it comes to labor outcomes (such as increasing the chance of your baby being born vaginally and decreasing your likelihood of c-section).

They also will know best (other than your midwife or doctor) how to advise you on different positions to try or what physical comfort measures might be most effective.

That said, doulas aren’t the only ones who can be trained and prepared.

Childbirth classes are extremely helpful in preparing not only the mother but also her support person for labor.

The Bradley Method, nicknamed “husband-coached childbirth,” focuses heavily on preparing fathers to be effective support people to their wives or partners. For that reason, I recommend that you and your main support person take a Bradley Childbirth class together.

11 Reasons to Have a Continuous Labor Support Person

Part of understanding why you need a support person during labor is understanding that labor is more than just getting a baby out of your body. Labor is definitely a physical experience, but it’s more than that.

Some people say that labor is 10% physical and 90% mental. Having experienced it, I would agree. The need for emotional and mental support is just as important as physical support, if not moreso. 

It seems fitting, then, that findings of a comprehensive study of women’s experiences with different types of continuous support included only one strictly physical benefit. The rest were emotional.

Let’s look at what that study found, summarized as 11 specific reasons that a continuous support person is important in improving your labor and birth experience.

RELATED >> Emotions Affect Your Body (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

Your midwife or doctor won’t be with you the whole time.

Though some midwives might come to be with you from the onset of labor, most likely will not, and doctors certainly won’t. Midwives and OBGYNs provide pre- and postnatal care and will be there when your baby is born (including during the pushing stage) but usually that’s the extent of their involvement.

Obviously that is important, but a woman in labor needs more. Early and active labor are the longest parts of labor, so you’re going to want one or more people with you through it all. That’s where a labor support person can help.

A trained support person can provide education and advice in real-time.

From suggesting a new position to reminding you what’s normal to advising you not to scream because it leads to exhaustion faster, a trained support person can help you know how to manage labor effectively.

Timely information also allows you to stay relaxed which allows your body to do what it needs to do.

Even if you’ve learned everything there is to know about your body and coping with labor, it’s unlikely you’ll remember it all while going through contractions. Having an educated support person with you means there’s twice the chance that you’ll be able to utilize the techniques and tips you learned in preparation for labor.

RELATED >> How to Cope With Contractions: Natural Pain Relief During Labor

A female support person can empathize and instinctively knows what a woman needs.

If you choose a female friend, family member, or doula (especially one who’s given birth before) to be with you during labor, she’ll be able to empathize with you. That empathy will likely enable her to anticipate what you need at any given moment without you even saying it. 

That’s not to say that your husband will be unhelpful or unable to support you or know what you need; he just never has been and never will be a woman nor will he ever give birth, so it’s just different.

Your husband will be able to offer uniquely helpful support because of the intimate relationship you have. 

Because of the close connection you share, your husband or partner will have a unique ability to comfort and encourage you. If he is willing and able, and if you want him to be there, invite him to be with you throughout all of labor.

Communicate with him beforehand about what he can do (and what he shouldn’t do) during labor to help and support you. 

Husbands need support too.

Though of course a husband or partner could be your one and only support person during labor (that’s how I did it), he also has needs during labor. Having an additional support person could be beneficial for him.

A doula or other support person can not only help you cope with contractions but also help your husband know what to do to help you. She could also be another person to grab snacks, be in charge of answering texts checking up on you, or whatever else you need.

In addition to that, your husband or partner will have to grab a snack every once in a while and will have to go to the bathroom sometimes. Having a second person there would mean you’re never left completely alone. 

Laboring women need compassion and emotional support. 

The need for kind caregivers makes inherent sense. Just think: do you feel more relaxed around a person who’s rushed and irritable or a person who is patient and encouraging and always ready to help?

In addition to being more comfortable and better able to relax, having a compassionate support person allowed women in the study to feel they could express themselves. Being able to communicate your needs and talk about your emotions is vital, in part because emotions affect your body’s ability to function properly.

Emotional support leads to more self-trust and inner strength.

It’s almost a given that every woman, when she reaches the transition phase of labor, will feel like giving up. Even before and after that point, labor is hard on a woman emotionally. That’s why emotional support is so important.

You can feel the same contraction for the same amount of time, but if you’re alone it’s going to seem much more difficult than if you have someone with you reminding you that “the power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.”

With that in your mind and someone holding your hand, you suddenly feel much more powerful.

(I didn’t make that quote up, by the way; it’s a widely known saying by an unknown author.)

Positive affirmations can lead to more endurance and ability to focus.

That quote is only one example of the affirmations you and your support people could utilize during labor. Anything works: fancy quotes, updates on how well labor is progressing, even “You’ve got this, babe!”

Some studies have shown that positive affirmations activate the reward center in our brain, which might be part of why affirmations can boost endurance during labor.

If inspiring birth quotes are your thing, here are a few of my faves:

“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.”

Laura Stavoe Harm

“Rain, after all is only rain; it is not bad weather. So, also, pain is only pain unless we resist it, then it becomes torment.”

I Ching

“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.”

Barbara Katz Rothman

“Women’s bodies have near-perfect knowledge of childbirth; it’s when their brains get involved that things can go wrong.”

Peggy Vincent

If you want more awesome birth quotes check out 67 Quotes About Birth That You Need to Hear If You’re Pregnant.

A familiar person’s continuous presence helps women feel safe and secure.

It’s a basic human need to feel safe and secure. It goes back to being a baby, wholly dependent on your own parents. Actually, it goes back to the creation of human life when there was put in us a need for connection and a will to live.

We humans were also designed to have a natural hormonal response – what we now call “fight or flight” – as a protection from danger. That fight or flight response is important when real danger is present, but that shouldn’t be the case during labor.

We don’t need or want that fight-or-flight to kick in during labor because it slows down normal body functions and shifts our focus to survival rather than giving birth.

But if a woman in labor is isolated or, on the other hand, is surrounded by strangers, it’s far more likely that she will feel unsafe. If she feels unsafe, it will be much harder for her to focus on listening to her body and managing labor intuitively.

A familiar labor support person can provide that safety and security and protect your birth space by managing who else can and cannot come in the room.

A support person is important for advocacy during labor.

If you are giving birth in the hospital, having a continuous support person during labor means you have someone that can help you stand up yourself and get the most out of the system that is supposed to be serving you. 

Though a nurse may be helpful and kind, she is still an employee of the hospital and so has to follow certain policies and will have certain biases.

A continuous support person, on the other hand, is focused entirely on you. You are his or her primary concern and he or she does not have any responsibility in regards to the hospital or doctor.

During labor, especially in the hospital, a woman may feel pressured to do or to not do certain things, whether that pressure is intended or not. A trained support person can help a woman feel confident in her decisions and make sure she feels enabled to express what she feels and what she wants and doesn’t want.

RELATED >> Things You Can Refuse During Labor

A support person can provide comforting physical touch.

Lastly, a support person can provide much-needed physical comfort. These comfort measures could be a back massage, helping you into a warm bath, applying counter pressure to your hips, or brushing your hair, to name only a few.

If it’s your husband or partner providing the physical touch, perhaps it’s a hug or a kiss or a person to sit with you in the birth pool.

Anyone could help you walk around slowly or help you move to a birthing ball to encourage more movement in your pelvis.

TL;DR

To sum up, you definitely want at least one continuous support person at your birth because:

  • You’ll have improved birth outcomes, including lower likelihood of a c-section,
  • You’ll probably feel more satisfied with your overall birth experience,
  • You’ll receive real-time advice and education,
  • You’ll have someone to advocate for you,
  • You’ll have the emotional support you need to keep going when it gets hard,
  • You’ll feel safer which means your body will be able to labor more effectively, and
  • You’ll have someone to give you massages or other means of physical comfort.

Be it your husband, your mom, your best friend, or a doula or two, make a plan now to have a birth team that can be with you during all of labor. You’ll be grateful you did. 

Until next time,

Allison

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