Birth supporters in a hospital feel they do not belong (Australia)

birthing unit
birth partner
Illustrations by Davis Harte, co-researcher.

The birthing supporters of women in an Australian maternity hospital experience an “unbelonging paradox” – a sense of being needed but also in the way. This was in a well-developed environment with a private birthing room.

The study provides an interesting insight into how families behave when giving birth in a medical environment. It highlights the considerable challenges of creating a birth environment outside the home that is kind to women in labour and offers an insight into why so many families still prefer birth at home in a familiar environment with familiar people, despite the fact that birth in a maternal health unit is safer in case of difficulties.

Researchers, led by Maralyn Foureur and J. Davis Harte of the University of Technology in Sydney, visited a hospital birthing suite and filmed women’s childbirth supporters one night and one day, then a few weeks later interviewed the mother, her midwives and the supporter(s), using the video material as a cue.

When viewing the video material, birth supporters described feeling unwelcome, unsupported and impeded in the performance of their roles by the environment.

For example, families have an instinct to make the birth place like home, for example bringing along familiar objects (pillows, essential oils, music). Birth supporters play an active role in this “nest building” – providing the woman with familiar things is part of the care they provide for her.  Things like a lack of storage space, lack of privacy and the presence of technical equipment (which carries the message, “something might go wrong”) all make this difficult. A lack of storage space can communicate, “you are not welcome”.

Birth supporters themselves need to be supported – if not it can distract and concern the woman in labour. The study quoted a concern of one woman about the discomfort of people kneeling around her by the birth pool on a hard surface.  Birth supporters need information, things to eat and drink if the labour is long, and somewhere to rest and unwind.


Harte JD, Sheehan A, Stewart SC, Foureur M (2016), Childbirth Supporters’ Experiences in a Built Hospital Birth Environment: Exploring Inhibiting and Facilitating Factors in Negotiating the Supporter Role, Health Environments Research & Design Journal 1-27