Can a relative or friend support me?

The essence of labor support is to "mother the mother." A calm, nurturing person with a basic understanding and respect for the birthing process can offer great support. A friend or relative who takes on this role can offer a special gift to you and experience the great privilege of participating in this important event in your life.

However, it's important to understand the challenges associated with inviting a friend or relative to serve as your labor support. When all or most births took place in homes, it was a normal part of life for women to learn about birth and care for other women while they gave birth. This knowledge was lost when birth moved into the hospital and women were isolated from their loved ones during childbirth. Few women today are in the best position to support a woman giving birth, even if they have given birth themselves, for several reasons:

  • Inexperience with supportive care: If your loved one had a typical hospital birth, she might not have received adequate supportive care and therefore won't have knowledge of comfort measures.
  • Uncertainty about physiological processes of labor and birth: Many women who give birth today experience inappropriate overuse of procedures, drugs and restrictions. Your friend or relative may not have experienced a normal labor that began on its own and was supported to proceed at its own pace, making it tough for her to support you in that process.
  • Impact of the media: Media images rarely include direct supportive care and often sensationalize childbirth. Even though most women who give birth in the United States are healthy, the media often shows birth as a crisis that must be managed with many procedures and drugs. It might be hard for your loved one to get past those assumptions.

Research has found that having labor support from a well-selected friend or relative is likely to improve your childbirth experience. However, if you seek other established benefits of labor support, such as increased likelihood of vaginal birth and shorter labor, research suggests that you should find a doula.

If you decide to invite a specific friend or family member to provide labor support, be sure to ask yourself:

  • Are her or his thoughts and feelings about birth similar to mine?
  • Can I be myself around this person without worrying what she or he may think?
  • Would I feel comfortable having her or him present during the intimate time of labor and birth? Does my partner feel the same way?
  • Is she or he able to commit to being available whenever I go into labor, and staying with me until I give birth?
  • Is she or he interested in learning more about ways to support women in labor?