NEW DELHI: Female relatives, and in some cases husbands of a pregnant woman can now be present to provide emotional support to her during child birth at public health facilities.
The decision by Union Health Ministry to allow "birth companions" during deliveries to provide one-to-one support is aimed at reducing Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR). Women who have experienced the process of labour may be designated as 'birth companions'. They are expected to provide continuous one-to-one support to women at the time of delivery.
The ministry said the presence of a female relative is a "low-cost" intervention that has proved to be beneficial to women experiencing labour. "In an innovative move aimed at reducing MMR and IMR, the ministry has taken a significant decision to allow birth companions during delivery at public health facilities.
"While several measures have been taken up by the ministry over the years to bring down the MMR and IMR, this step signifies India's commitment under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to further accelerate initiatives with specific focus on quality parameters," the ministry said.
Sources said some private hospitals already allow husbands or female relatives to be present during deliveries. Birth companions provide emotional support in form of continuous reassurance, information about labour progress and advice regarding coping techniques and comforting measures including touch, massages, etc.
Elaborating on the pre-requisites for being a birth companion, the ministry said it has to be a female relative who has preferably undergone the process of labour. It added that at the facilities where privacy protocols are followed in the labour room, the husband of the pregnant woman can be allowed as a birth companion as well.
"She (birth companion) should not suffer from any communicable diseases, wear clean clothes, be willing to stay with the pregnant woman throughout the process of labour, should not interfere in the work of hospital staff and the treatment procedures and not attend to other women in the labour room," the ministry said.
A ministry official said that the decision to allow birth companions was taken in light of positive results and after conducting due deliberations.