Objective: To review and synthesize qualitative research studies of women's perceptions of professional labor support.
Data sources: Journal articles dated from 1990 to 2001. Search terms included labor support, labor and delivery, childbirth, birth, and caring during labor. Qualitative studies and combined quantitative/qualitative studies with open-ended questions were included.
Study selection: The focus of the 17 studies was laboring women's rather than nurses' perceptions of labor support or care during labor.
Data extraction: Data describing methods, samples, and findings were extracted from study reports.
Data synthesis: Similarities reported in the study findings were synthesized using a model of labor support. Synthesis of the study findings was reported using exemplary statements in the words of women who experienced labor support. Categories included expectations of labor support, physical comfort, caring and emotional support, interpersonal communication style, communication of information and instructions, advocacy, and competence of the professional.
Conclusions: There were a limited number of qualitative studies of labor support. Professional labor support was influenced by the interpersonal communication style of the caregiver. Cultural differences existed in caregiver actions considered supportive.