Because social support persons are excluded from modern obstetric care in Zambia, the aim of this study was to explore the views of 84 mothers and 40 health staff about allowing women to be attended by a supportive companion during labor in Zambian urban and rural maternities. Most of the mothers wanted a companion present to provide emotional and practical support. Those who were opposed to the idea had nobody to ask to be with them, or they had relatives who would interfere with the care provided.
All health staff cited hospital policy as the principal reason for prohibiting social support persons from staying with laboring women. They also said that the health staff's role is to care for laboring women, and they worried that social support persons could interfere with their work by giving the laboring women traditional medicine. However, most health staff also said that a social support person could help the laboring women and give her a sense of security.
The study concludes that Zambian maternity staff should be exposed to new research findings about the benefits of social support during childbirth and that this practice should be encouraged in Zambia. Ultimately, it should be the laboring woman who decides whether she wants to bring a social support person to the labor ward.