Getting someone to emotionally support your labor is important.
Often a friend, family member or even your spouse has so much stress, excitement and nervousness that they don’t make for the best support… even if they know what to do.
Labor is an intense experience.
You want your midwives or obstetrician to be able to focus on the physical health and safety of mum and baby, while your professional labor assistant (PLA) will support your emotional well being.
They are also the ones to help coach you through breathing, meditation and coping techniques of each contraction or during labor. They will be your motivation when you are exhausted. They also make for a great liason between you and medical staff. If things aren’t going exactly to plan, your PLA should be aware of your birth plan and be able to talk to you about your choices with that in mind.
Nurse or Doula?
A professional labor assistant (PLA) or labor-support person often is either a midwife, obstretrical nurse or doula.
In Ontario, when you receive the care of a midwife, the team will be a group of 3:
- Primary midwife
- Secondary midwife
- Back-up midwife – in case the primary is on holiday, sick or attending another birth
The secondary midwife is there to support the primary and can also act as a labor-support person if needed.
If you have a more complicated or high risk pregnancy, an obstretrical nurse will be helpful in managing complications and supporting the labor. This person is highly trained but is not involved in the actual delivery process. They will be able to explain what recommendations the medical team is making and why. They can help calm nerves when many things appear to be happening suddenly. And they can also let you know what is normal and safe, especially for your first baby.
Doula comes from the Greek and means a “woman’s servant”. This person may or may not have any special medical training. Doulas provide great emotional support and encouragement throughout the labor but also postpartum as well.
Doulas will be able to provide the woman with complete focus, while the medical team and even your family member are rushing around tending to set-up or calling family, etc.
In all situations, your PLA will give you the support, strength and guidance to have a birth you want. It may not be your optimal labor, but you will feel empowered in your decisions as a team.
According to “The Birth Book” by Dr. Sears and Martha Sears, a labor person makes for an easier labor with:
- shorter labors (up to 50% in some studies)
- less chance for a cesarean (8% with PLA vs 18% in nonsupported)
- fewer forceps delivery
- fewer epidural analgesia
- fewer episiotomies and perineal tears
- tended to breastfeed longer
- and their babies experienced fewer newborn problems requiring special care
It’s important that you find a PLA you feel comfortable with, you trust and who you share a similar birthing vision. If you don’t feel comfortable with their labor coping techniques or they seem to be pushing unnecessary interventions on you, this won’t be a good fit.
Also find someone who can communicate with your spouse, family members, and medical team competently. They should understand the basic medical terminology to be able to explain any changes or choices you might have to make.
Having your best friend as your support person might feel comforting, but if they’ve never given birth or are not up to date on labor procedures, they might add to your stress in the event that you have questions, concerns or complications.
The following are some questions to keep in mind when interviewing your labor-support person:
- What’s their training and experiences? Where did they train, how long and how many births have they attended?
- What are their labor coping techniques?
- Do they provide partner prenatal coaching or classes?
- Will they be available postpartum? And for how long?
- Do they do home births and hospital?
A personal referral from a trusted source is often better than just finding anyone on the internet. But if you don’t know any PLAs or none of your referrals are available, make sure to interview 2-3 support people and get a feel for how you connect and communicate with that person.