Choosing Birth Companions

Giving birth is one of the most life-changing events! It’s a one off occasion that one is unlikely ever to forget, and ideally one would like the process to reflect the absolute miracle of the baby’s arrival. There used to be very few options as to the how, where, what and who of the actual birth, but mercifully that has all changed! Today the choices are largely in the hands of the expectant mom, as they should be, and there are several choices of birth companions. It is therefore of utmost importance that mum does serious research into her birthing options.


More often than not medically trained gynaecologists in South Africa are male, so if you are looking for female support during labour, then make sure you also get hold of a female gynae, midwife or doula. Gynaes tend to have a more functional role (rather than offering emotional support) during birth, and gynae assisted births are more likely to end up in Caesareans. That said, their expert medical experience is vital should any major complication occur during the birthing process: no matter what your choice, make sure you are able to access a health facility or call on a fully qualified gynae should the need occur.


midwives are specialists in normal pregnancy and birth and are qualified nursing sisters; their training is based solely on the care and well being of mothers and their babies. As a result, an incredibly strong and trusting relationship between the pregnant mother and her midwife often develops since the midwife will have done check-ups throughout the pregnancy and may have given ante-natal classes to prepare the expectant mother for birth. It has been shown that mothers under midwife care have significantly fewer interventions during labour and a lower rate of electronic foetal monitoring (often leading to a whole range of unnecessary interventions). Most women who have been cared for by a midwife also express much stronger feelings of empowerment and ‘birth satisfaction’ if they have been assisted by a midwife; a sense that they were strong enough to give birth – they did it …very often without drugs – and survived – amazing!


Otherwise known as a ‘birth sister’ is a trained female birth partner; usually these women have had children of their own and have had training in both the physical and emotional facets of birthing. Some studies have shown that the presence of a doula can cut labour time up to as much as half! This just goes to show how important it is to feel ‘supported’ in all ways during the birthing process.


It is wonderful when both parents can experience the birth of their child together as the bond it forms between them due to the intensity and miracle of the event can never be replaced. However, it must be remembered that (ideally) there are 2 people about to become parents – one who has to push, and the other who has to ‘help’. Very often it is just what nature of ‘help’ that is required by the ‘pushing one’ whether mum and dad have a combined positive birth experience. The traditional movie depiction of a woman screaming hysterically at her forlorn mate is not the normal course of events, but it is advisable to talk through with your husband/partner just exactly what he will be required to do, and to openly discuss his own feelings and fears surrounding the ‘big event’. In other words – if the husband also feels nurtured and supported, then he too is more likely to have a positive birth experience. Making lists can also be useful so that everyone is aware of their responsibilities. My husband was ‘in charge’ of lighting candles, putting on nice music, massaging (a lot), holding my hand, puffing like a train and cutting the cord …he did good.


In lieu of a husband or partner, many women opt to have family members or close friends around as this can give many women a great deal of the emotional support required to get her through labour. That said, do make sure that all those involved are aware of their responsibilities and respect the birthing mother and healthcare professionals at all times.

For my first birth only my husband and midwife were present since I was not feeling confident enough to have others around. However, by the time number 2 was due to be born I felt that I really did need my mum there (a skilled Quantum healer and reiki practitioner), as well as a family friend from the UK (who just happened to be a very experienced midwife!). Since my mum was going to be coming to the hospital anyway – I thought it would be nice for her to have her friend with her and that I would benefit from this wonderful woman’s presence and experience.

As it turned out – it was perfect . . . husband in charge of breathing and focus, mum in charge of reiki and Quantum Touch, family friend Julie in charge of reflexology and emotional support, midwife Louette in charge of ‘logistics’!

By Vicky Penfold of Biobaba

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