Kerala Now Allowing Birth Companions in the Delivery Room
In a great win for women’s rights during childbirth, Kerala government hospitals will now allow birthing companions, such as a spouse, family member or friend, to accompany women who are delivering, reports The News Minute.
For women in India who deliver in government hospitals, childbirth can be a lonely and scary experience. They may know their doctor, though many times the doctor delivering them is also a new face. But all of the delivery room hospital staff, including nurses and technicians, are complete strangers to women in labor. Women are enduring and navigating alone extreme pain, stress, and fear, without someone they know and trust.
Childbirth rights activists have long identified the right to birth companions as an essential human right during childbirth. In fact, the World Health Organization promotes birth companionship as a critical issue that can impact maternal health outcomes, as well as infant well-being and health outcomes, both during the process and long after delivery.
In the delivery room, having a known and trusted person by a woman’s side is important in that it can change the birthing experience completely, making it perhaps easier, faster, and maybe less traumatic. But it is also critically important from the perspective of protecting the woman’s rights as a patient; without a trusted family member or friend around, there is no one to advocate for that woman who is vulnerable and unable to advocate for herself. Family can make last-minute medical decisions, if required, and provide a modicum of protection from abusive hospital staff (a problem that, unfortunately, many underprivileged women in India face routinely). In a country where issues of consent and obstetric violence permeate delivery rooms of government hospitals, the presence of a companion and advocate is perhaps all the more critical.
Before 2016, women were not permitted to have a companion with them in the delivery room of an Indian government hospital. However, in 2016, the Health Ministry changed the rules and began to allow companions.
Yet, even under those rules, there were limitations on the companion; most importantly, the first requirement is that the companion must be a female relative, “preferably one who has undergone the process of labour.” In other words, husbands or expectant fathers who want to accompany their partners into the delivery room are not permitted to do so. Furthermore, as of 2018, it still appears that many states’ hospital boards have not implemented this change, and so practically, the Health Ministry’s statement has not improved women’s experience of childbirth. Kerala’s new rules, therefore, feel particularly progressive.
According to the new Kerala rules, patients can choose their labour companions themselves, and doctors told The News Minute that most of the time, the husband is the chosen companion.
Dr Shahirsha, superintendent of Punalur Government Taluk Hospital, where the companionship program has been in place for more than a year already, believes that the husband should be the ideal labour companion for a few reasons. “First of all, delivery is one of the most painful conditions of a woman’s life. The husband should also see this and experience it first-hand. Secondly, as of now, all the responsibilities of family growth are on the female partner’s shoulders: from birth to birth planning, to birth spacing, to delivery to lactation. In the present situation, all this is the female’s responsibility, and the male has no role: he’s just a sexual partner in this equation. This needs to change, and having such a [labour companionship] program would help. It would be eye-opening for them.”
We couldn’t have put it better.