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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Dads 'not best birthing partners'
Midwife holds baby
Men may not be the best birthing partners
Expectant fathers may not be the best option to support women in labour, say researchers.

Mothers who had continuous support from a trained or experienced woman are less likely to need a caesarean, or powerful pain relief treatments.

The study, by researchers from Toronto University, goes against the present status quo which pushes for men to always be present at the birth.

Experts are looking for ways to cut the UK's record caesarean rates.

The study also suggests that women with trained female birthing partners who are present continuously during the labour tend to have a more positive experience than even those accompanied by the father.

Some men are terrified by the whole process, and the last thing you need in the delivery room is fear.
Jasmine Birtles, British Doulas
Fewer than half of all UK mothers have a completely "natural" birth - with the latest statistics revealing that 55% requiring the use of forceps, ventouse or even a complete caesarean.

It is suggested that many women are pushed into opting for caesareans at the first signs of difficulty in the labour by over-cautious doctors, even when a natural birth may still be possible.

Doula trend

The "requirement" for a man to be present at the birth is only a recent doctrine - in previous decades the more likely birthing partner was usually an older woman such as a mother or sister.

A recent phenomenon in this country is the "doula" - who can be employed by a mother-to-be specifically to be her partner at the birth.

Typically these women have given birth at least once themselves, and while they have no medical qualification are there to offer advice and encouragement during the labour.

Jasmine Birtles, from a London-based agency called "British Doulas", says that while many fathers-to-be are "fantastic" during the birth, there are some whose presence in the delivery room may be counterproductive - both for themselves and the woman.

What's a doula?
Doulas are experienced women who are hired to act as birthing partners
The word comes from the Greek for "handmaiden", adopted in the US by the first to take on this role
They have no medical qualifications - anyone can call themselves a doula, although training courses do exist
They cost from 200 to 500 - and "post-birth" doulas can be hired to help out as well
She told BBC News Online: "Some men are terrified by the whole process, and the last thing you need in the delivery room is fear.

"What we offer is someone who has simply been through it all before."

She said that Doulas might reduce the need for doctors to intervene in the birth in two ways.

"We know that women need less pain relief, and there is a reduced need for invasive procedures or caesareans when they are relaxed and happy during the birth.

"Doulas also act as 'champions' for the woman - if they really don't want a caesarean, they can express this to a doctor who may be encouraging them to have one."

She said that effectively, doulas were filling the role which many midwives would see as part of their job - but are normally far too overstretched to carry out.

"On some nights in some labour wards, there is only one midwife tending to as many as five women."

Important evidence

While there are many thousands of doulas in the US, there are only a few hundred in the UK.

A spokesman for the National Childbirth Trust said that the findings of the study were "very important", as they could help improve outcomes and start to reduce the UK's rising caesarean rate.

"It is one of the few interventions with hard evidence to show its benefit.," she said.

The study has been published in the Cochrane Library, which gathers studies offering strong evidence of the benefits and risks of various forms of healthcare. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Mothering the new mums
27 Aug 01  |  Health
Caesarean crack-down urged
18 Jun 03  |  Health
'Why I chose a Caesarean'
26 Oct 01  |  Health

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