Having continuous support during labour can make a huge difference to how your labour unfolds. It can help you feel safe and reassured, help you deal better with pain and discomfort, and that person can encourage you and help keep you mobile.
All of this can help you tune in to you natural birthing instincts and make for a smoother experience for you and your baby.
If you give birth in hospital, your hospital midwife will not usually be able to stay by your side for all of your labour. And your birth partner might need some extra support himself/herself.
So who else can you turn to?
In this section, you can find out more about:
- what the research says about continuous labour support
- who can support me?
- how many labour supporters can I have?
What the research says
A 2013 Cochrane review of 22 separate randomised control trials (involving a total of over 15,000 women) showed that women with continuous birth support were:
- more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth
- more likely to be satisfied with the birth experience
- less likely to have an epidural
- less likely to have a caesarean birth or need forceps or ventouse during vaginal birth
The review also found that “continuous support was most effective when the provider was neither part of the hospital staff nor the woman’s social network”, leading to two further benefits:
- shorter labours; and
- higher five-minute Apgar scores (a test used to assess your baby’s well-being in the first 5 minutes after birth)
So who can support me?
In Belgium, you have several options for additional birth support:
- an independent midwife – even if you plan to give birth in hospital you can still see an independent midwife during your pregnancy, and arrange for her to accompany and support you during your labour, first at home and then in hospital. Once in hospital, your midwife is there in a supporting role (hospital midwives will still provide any medical care), and your gynaecologist will still be present for the birth.
Read more about what an independent midwife can do during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, and about finding an independent midwife
- a physiotherapist – in Belgium, it is quite common for perinatal physiotherapists to provide labour support – they typically offer great support in terms of positions to facilitate labour and breathing and relaxation techniques.
Many hospitals allow ‘external’ physiotherapists to accompany labouring women, while some do not, offering instead in-house physiotherapists. Ask your hospital about their policy, and your physiotherapist if he/she offers labour support.
Read more about what a physiotherapist can do during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, and about finding a perinatal physiotherapist.
- a doula – borrowing an ancient greek word meaning ‘a woman at the service of another woman’, a doula provides emotional and physical support during birth (and possibly during pregnancy and during the postnatal period too, if you wish). A doula can work together with your birth partner, and is actually there to support both you.
Read more about what a doula can do during labour and birth, and about finding a doula.
Having an independent midwife, physiotherapist or doula present can also be a way of getting around any potential language barrier you feel exists – depending on where you give birth, someone who is bilingual English/French or English/Dutch may be able to liaise with hospital staff … and let you get on with giving birth!
How many birth supporters can I have?
Many hospitals follow a policy of allowing only one labour supporter, i.e. including the birth partner. However, the Belgian KCE Guideline to low risk birth advocates the presence of another person (professional or otherwise) if the couple wish.
Some hospitals do not allow ‘external’ physiotherapists to accompany labouring women, and instead have internal physiotherapists who provide support.
Ask your hospital about their policy. Some may ask that you inform them in advance if another person will be present, and may provide you with paperwork to complete.