When we are pregnant, especially with a first child, we often fantasise about what labour might be like. Many of us choose to have only our partner with us as our support during labour. We imagine how wonderful it will be – a beautiful, intimate connection between the two of us and a perfect birth with a partner who is able to provide all the emotional, physical and psychological support we might need. But is this very realistic?
A labouring mother-to-be, surrounded by experienced birth support women, is part of an ancient practice. Birth has now become a much more isolating experience which can be lonely and psychologically stressful for both partners. We carry the hopes of our dream birth by going through it with just our partner but, in reality, it brings fear, anxiety and uncertainty to the mother or father or both.
It might become even more appealing to know that hiring a professional support person, such as a doula or birth attendant, can offer women some very significant benefits during labour. They include a reduction in the length of labour, more than 50% reduction in caesareans and far fewer requests for pain relief.
Doula support during labour
Research is quite conclusive with regard to doula support during childbirth. Here are some results of a randomised controlled trial, one of many, that shows the incredible results that doula support has on labouring women.
Results from a study in Houston found:
Average length of labour:
Without a doula – 9.4 hrs
With a doula – 7.4 hrs
Natural vaginal births:
Without a doula – 25 out of 204 women
With a doula – 116 out of 212 women
Use of oxytocin (induction drug):
Without a doula – 44%
With a doula – 17%
Without a doula – 26%
With a doula – 8%
Infant kept in hospital for more than2 days:
Without a doula – 24%
With a doula – 10%
Without a doula – 28%
With a doula – 8%
Psychological needs of a woman in labour
Going through childbirth is most likely the greatest thing most women have done in their lives. A woman in labour is most vulnerable, however, and she will benefit from continuous support during her birthing process.
The World Health Organization recommends doulas as the support people to attend all births, globally. The active involvement of a designated support person as a birth companion has been proved to have many positive outcomes. A woman needs physical support during childbirth – from the early stages of labour, through the active stage and until a few weeks after the baby has been born. Continuous labour support during childbirth has been proved to play a vital role in a woman’s childbirth experience.
A doula is a specialist in offering support in the birth setting.
A woman in labour enters a different dimension – not just physically but also emotionally. Having supportive care during this time is very valuable.
Giving birth is the most transformative experience a person can experience. Research shows, in the latest relevant studies and systematic reviews, that having the continuous presence of an expert who is present solely for the purpose of providing support during childbirth is key to navigating this rite of passage.
Emotional support in labour
Not everyone has a circle of family members or people who can provide social support. Having a supportive partner is desirable but, for many women, even if their life partners are very supportive in their relationship, birth has not been in their radar of things to worry about until a few months before it happens.
Having someone providing continuous support will change the birth outcomes simply because the woman’s emotional needs are being met. Developing a birth plan, even entering the birthing room with a person whose speciality is to provide continuous support will mean a lot in such a vulnerable time.
Read more in BellyBelly’s articles 5 Things To Know Before Hiring A Doula and
How do you support a woman in labour?
Empathy is the capacity to see and understand a situation from someone else’s perspective. Because we can never be in another person’s shoes, we cannot really know women’s feelings or what they are going through. To be able to support someone at a vulnerable time, therefore requires a lot of selflessness. Giving birth is transformative but a woman must walk the path by herself. Having the right support at this time is most valuable.
Supporting a woman during labour means putting her and her needs first. It means anticipating her needs and providing the right comfort measures in the birth environment so the labouring woman and her partner feel they can stay focused throughout the whole process. When a woman is well supported during labour she can be held and helped with her breathing exercises. If she knows her emotional needs are covered, she can focus only on what’s happening and take one contraction at a time, especially during the active phase.
Many hospitals are starting to provide doula-supportive care.
Being supported during labour is all about being present for another woman’s needs. She needs to walk this path by herself but the path is much harder when she has to take care of everything herself.
Providing support during labour means being there, removing barriers and making the setting as comfortable as it can be. Giving a woman support at birth means holding her, accompanying her with breathing techniques, acknowledging her achievements and shining a light when she is going through a dark passage. It’s about being there for her so she knows she’s not on her own.
Why is support during labour so important?
Childbirth usually takes many hours. It’s important to have in the delivery room a person who will provide support during the labour progress, who knows about birth dynamics, different settings, pain medication and hospital staff, who encourages you to change positions and who cares about your well-being. It can make a huge difference, not only at the birth but afterwards as well.
When a woman goes into labour, the most primal part of the brain needs to be taking the lead. This means that the thinking brain should be put at rest so that the mammalian brain can take charge.
For the thinking brain to be switched off, a labouring woman needs to be worry-free and that’s much easier to achieve when everything else is taken care of. Giving birth is immense. We should protect the process of birth by letting the woman focus fully on her experience.
We are at our best when we feel as grounded as possible. This means when we get closer to our ‘animal’ self and detach from our ‘human’ self. When this happens we’re in tune. We are connected to the Universe, the elements, the Mother. When a woman gives birth she totally surrenders to her ‘mammalness’. That rawness and surrender of control, so necessary for our development as a species, are experienced only a few times in our lives. Birth is one of the times when it happens. It is the only one of these circumstances that we have time to prepare for, and to provide the protagonist of the story with plenty of support so she can dive fully into the experience.
One of the greatest human qualities is the ability to stop and think, understand, study and learn. The more we know about the human brain, behaviour, love and early attachment, the more we can provide ourselves with the best possible allies to help us thrive.
What do you say to support someone in labour?
There’s honestly not much you must say to support someone in labour. In fact, the less talking you do, the better. Remember what we said about the thinking part of the brain and how it should be resting so that physiology can take its course?
Talking to a woman in labour is not a good idea.
If you do any talking, let it be supportive, encouraging, with words of love, closeness and sacredness. Don’t interfere, just accompany her, with love. Say ‘I love you’, ‘You’re doing so well’, ‘If you could see you right now!’ or ‘Oh, I’m so in awe of you right now!’ This is what you should be saying, if you say anything.
Why is support important for new mothers?
Going through a rite of passage means you actually pass through to another side, to a different realm. That requires adjustment, time and support. Is no news that postpartum depression is highly common and this is extremely sad. Women go through a physiological experience in their lives and obstetrics has detached it so much from the natural birthing process. Without support, there’s no way the new mother can move on from the trauma of a difficult experience and the adverse effects of unnecessary medical intervention.
How can the father support the mother during pregnancy, labour and birth?
As a father, the best way you can support your partner is by being informed and asking her for guidance. Learn about the birth process, relaxation techniques, birth balls or acupressure.
Check out this course on Acupressure For Pregnancy, Labour And The Postpartum Period that couples all over the world have found extremely helpful. [insert Robert’s link: is the title correct?].
Once you know about techniques to help her navigate labour more easily, you can move on to learning about different birth settings, medical interventions, electronic fetal monitoring, caesarean birth or pain medications. As a partner, you know her best. You are the best person to be by her side. What does she need? What are the things you’re best at in your partnership? You’re the most best placed person to know how you can help your partner during this stage.