Labor Support: What You Need to Know



What is labor support?

Why is support in labor important to consider?

Would I still benefit from having a labor support companion if I think I will want an epidural or other pain medication?

Who might provide me with supportive care during labor and birth?



What is labor support?

Labor is an intense physical and emotional experience. It's comforting to be reassured that what's happening is normal and healthy and to get feedback about your progress in labor. Some women also want comforting touch or gentle assistance moving and changing positions in labor. They may also appreciate encouragement and help communicating their wishes to their clinical caregivers. Partners or spouses may welcome guidance in supporting the woman at this time.

Throughout the ages, in nearly all societies for which we have records, women have been helped and comforted in labor by other women. These women stayed throughout labor providing physical comfort, emotional reassurance, and information. Today, labor support professionals called doulas (DOO-lah; Greek for "woman who serves") are trained to provide the comfort and care women need during labor.

Why is support in labor important to consider?

Every woman hopes for her birth experience to be as positive as possible. But women may feel that asking for support and kind treatment in labor shows they are less concerned about safety than a mother should be. In fact, planning for excellent support in labor is an effective way to make birth safer and healthier for you and your baby.

Research shows that the availability of support in labor can affect your chances of having a cesarean, vacuum extraction, or forceps delivery; the likelihood that you will need pain medications; and your baby's condition at birth. Labor support can help you avoid or reduce risks associated with these interventions.

Research also shows that having good support can affect how you feel about your birth, and that memories of childbirth experiences often stay with women throughout their lives.  (For more details about labor support's remarkable benefits - and lack of any known risks - follow through this section to the Best Evidence: Labor Support page.)

Would I still benefit from having a labor support companion if I think I will want an epidural or other pain medication?

Women who plan to use pain medications could also appreciate having a labor support companion for many reasons:
  • women and their partners need information and emotional support, whether they use pain medication or not; although pain may be removed with an epidural, other questions and concerns remain
  • many women do not experience pain-free labor with pain medications and will still welcome comfort measures and mental strategies to help with pain
  • when a woman labors without an epidural, the sensations in her pelvic area are a powerful guide to help her know when and how to push; epidurals reduce or sometimes remove these sensations, making it harder to push effectively; an experienced labor support companion can be a helpful guide during the pushing phase of labor in that situation
  • epidurals involve or increase the likelihood of using many other interventions to monitor, prevent, or treat adverse effects - this has been described as a cascade of intervention; a labor support companion can help you cope with those experiences
  • depending on your wishes, a trained or experienced labor companion can also help you avoid or delay medication, or use a smaller amount; this may help you avoid or limit some potential adverse effects.

Who might provide me with supportive care during labor and birth?

Research says that having support from a doula or other labor support companion who is present solely to provide continuous support has the most benefits. Others who may be important sources of support are your partner, your clinical caregivers, and friends or family members.

The Options: Labor Support page reviews the pros and cons of each type of labor support companion.


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Options: Labor Support

Most recent page update: 3/12/2013


© 2014 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.

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