Objective: To study the acceptability and experience of supportive companionship during childbirth by mothers, health professionals and supportive companions.
Design: Cross-sectional surveys before and after introducing supportive companionship.
Setting: Maternity facilities in Blantyre City, Malawi.
Population: Mothers who had normal deliveries before discharge from hospital, health professionals in health facilities and women from the community, who had given birth before and had interest in providing or had provided support to fellow women during childbirth.
Methods: Combined qualitative and quantitative methods.
Main outcome measure: Perceptions on labour companionship among participants.
Results: The majority of supported women (99.5%), companions (96.6%) and health professionals (96%) found the intervention beneficial, mainly for psychological and physical support to the labouring woman and for providing assistance to healthcare providers. Some companions (39.3%) unwillingly accompanied the women they were supporting and 3.5% of companions mentioned that their presence in the labour ward was an opportunity for them to learn how to conduct deliveries.
Conclusion: Supportive companionship for women during childbirth is highly acceptable among mothers and health professionals, and the community in Malawi, but should be governed by clear guidelines to avoid potential harm to labouring women. Women require information regarding the need for a supportive companion and their expected role before they present at a health facility in labour. Such notification will provide an opportunity for the pregnant woman to identify someone of their choice who is ready and capable of safely taking up the role of a companion.