What is a birth team and do I need one?
Birth isn’t something that you have to do alone. In fact, it has been statistically proven that continuous labor support results in better outcomes for both mothers and babies during childbirth, according to a 2012 study by Hodnett, et al.1
But support doesn’t begin or end with labor and birth; it takes a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to call on your “village” for support through pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum.
Support during pregnancy
Childbirth and breastfeeding classes will provide you with invaluable knowledge and confidence as you prepare for your first child or get ready for your family to grow. Ask for recommendations from friends or family members who’ve taken classes and given birth in your area. Certain methods, such as Lamaze, have websites where you can search for local educators and classes. You can also ask your OB/GYN, midwife, local birthing center or hospital for information about teachers and classes in your area.
Prenatal exercise classes, such as yoga or swimming, can help you to stay active and provide opportunities to connect with other expecting moms. A quick Internet search can also help you to find local pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and other support groups near you. If you can’t find anything in your town, try looking in the nearest major city for more options. Don’t be afraid to reach out and step beyond your comfort zone to make new connections. They often lead to lasting friendships.
Support during labor and birth
Based on 22 trials involving more than 15,000 women, Hodnett, et al. concluded that women who received continuous labor support were more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth and less likely to have pain medication during labor. In addition, their labors were shorter and they were less likely to have a cesarean or instrument-assisted vaginal birth (such as through the use of forceps or vacuum); their babies were also more likely to have higher five-minute Apgar scores. In fact, the study concluded that all women should have support throughout labor and birth.
These are a few of the people who may be an essential part of your birth team:
The most effective labor support persons, according to the Hodnett study, were individuals who were neither members of the hospital staff nor the mother’s social network. So who are these support persons? In a word: doulas.
The name doula comes from the ancient Greek term for “a woman who serves” and is used to refer to a trained professional who provides a mother with physical, emotional and informational support during her labor and childbirth journey. An experienced and caring doula will bring a wide variety of skills to the table. Her exact role will be determined by your needs and preferences and may include support for your spouse/partner. For more information on the doula's role, see “I’m not sure… do I need a doula?”
Spouse or partner
The support of a doula can have a powerful positive impact on your labor and birth, but your spouse or partner may also be an essential member of your birth team. The intimate connection that the two of you share is unique and cannot be replaced. Your partner may be enthusiastic about attending birth classes with you, or they might need a little reassurance. Either way, encourage them to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible to be there for you both physically and emotionally.
Family or friends
Your mother, sisters, cousins or friends could also be good options to support you during labor and birth. Talk with them ahead of time to see if they would be interested and a good fit for your labor goals. It’s also important to check with your hospital or birthing center, if that’s where you plan to be, to see if they have a policy regarding how many people can be in the room during labor and birth as some hospitals do have limits in place.
If you plan to labor and birth your baby at home, your midwife and any assistants will also be key members of your birth team. In a hospital setting or birthing center, the nurses as well as your doctor or midwife will round out your birth team. The level of support offered by your nurse will vary widely depending on the hospital size and culture and individual nurse personalities. Some nurses see labor support as a part of their role in labor and birth, while others do not.
Doulas aren’t just for labor support; a postpartum doula can help you adjust to the new world of motherhood or offer support as you add a new child into your existing family. Just as with a doula during labor and delivery, what a postpartum doula will do depends largely on the needs of the mother and family. She will support the mother by sharing information in a comforting, respectful way as she supports the family through this new transition. Doula Match or similar directories can help you to find a doula near you.
Lactation consultants and educators can help you through the early days and weeks of breastfeeding as you and your baby develop your own unique rhythm. Ask your childbirth educator or doula for references for breastfeeding support. Your pediatrician or local WIC office may also know of individuals or groups in your area; online resources such as Breastfeeding USA and La Leche League International are also avenues to help locate breastfeeding support near you.
There are many trained, experienced and caring individuals who are equipped and eager to help you have your best labor, birth, and postpartum experience. It’s never too soon to start building your birth team.
Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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Plumtree Baby, LLC
1 Hodnett, et al. “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” PubMed. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23076901