Female Friends Make Childbirth Easier

Bringing a gal pal with you when you deliver could help shorten your labor, lower your risk of Cesarean section, and even improve your newborn's health, according to a recent study from the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, Neonatal Nursing.

Dee A. Campbell, R.N., lead researcher on the study, looked at more than 600 labors where the patient brought along a female friend who had been trained as a "lay doula," a woman who provides continuous support to the mother during labor. "We were trying to go back to basics, mimicking how childbirth used to be, where women supported each other," she says.

These women experienced slightly less risk of Cesarean section, labor that was an average of one hour shorter, and they had babies with APGAR scores 5 percent higher one minute after birth and almost 3 percent higher five minutes after birth than women without trained friends present.

"The power of having a female friend with you during the course of labor, I think, was clearly shown," says Campbell.

The female friends in the study received a couple of two-hour training sessions that Campbell describes as "simple, not high-tech, with just a few flip charts and no videos." The sessions focused on how the doula friend could offer support during labor, and included a few demonstrations. The idea was to keep the time commitment for mothers and friends minimal, and the training simple.

Because professional doulas charge for their services, and are not available everywhere, Campbell is hoping that "lay doula" training in hospitals will eventually become widespread. The training, she says, is not intended to replace childbirth courses attended by expectant couples, nor does the presence of a friend in labor replace the presence of the birth partner. It's just an added support for the mother. And if training isn't available in your area, an untrained female friend can still offer plenty of help.

Campbell's goal is that one day, one of the questions all OB-GYNs ask their patients will be: "Have you selected your female friend yet who will go with you into labor?"

- Christina Elston