Giving birth

You need a friend

Emotional support during labour

By Susan Spicer
You need a friend

Study after study has shown that when women receive uninterrupted physical and emotional support during labour, there are a number of benefits, including:

• shorter labours
• fewer interventions
• reduced pain medication use
• higher Apgar scores for babies at birth

In an ideal world, every woman giving birth in Canada would have access to a doula (trained labour support provider) as well as a primary caregiver. For many women that’s not an option because of availability or cost — usually upwards of $600. But recent research suggests having a friend or family member with a bit of training in labour support can also have a positive impact on a woman’s birth experience.

The study was published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN). Six hundred women having their first babies were asked to designate a female friend or family member who would agree to act as their lay doula and participate in four hours of training in labour support. The curriculum included comfort suggestions, positioning for labour and birth, and listening skills. The researchers found that having a lay doula significantly shortened labour.

If you’re not able to hire extra labour support, it’s worth considering who among your friends and family might be willing to accompany you and your partner during the birth of your baby.

Toronto childbirth educator and doula Jennifer Elliott says, “You don’t actually need that much medical knowledge to provide labour support. It’s about being there for the woman, stroking her or massaging, listening to her and offering words of encouragement, and making sure she’s well hydrated and well fed.”

Hard-wired for friendship

You’ve heard of the classic fight or flight response to stress? Well, it turns out this may be more a male than a female response. In recent years, researchers have hypothesized that women share a “tend and befriend” response to stress. In other words, women instinctively find another woman to help when they’re having a hard time. It follows that during labour, the support of a friend reduces stress, which increases production of oxytocin (the hormone that stimulates contractions), thus shortening labour.

This article was originally published on Apr 27, 2007

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