Here’s a very important rule: No warm bodies.
In a nutshell:
When choosing companions for your labor and birth, don’t invite anyone who will contribute only a warm body to the experience.
That means anyone who has tried to invite themselves to your birth.
That means your single friends who think your labor might be a great time to get together and socialize.
That means nursing students in a teaching hospital who are there for observation.
That means your best friend who’s “never seen a baby born.”
That also means your baby sister who’s never been pregnant, and who you plan to show how it’s done.
That means your older children.
That may mean your mom.
Anyone who would be present at your birth only as a spectator is likely to be a hindrance to the natural process of labor. The truth is that when you are giving birth, you will need support. You are not putting on a show, you are having a baby. It’s really hard work. You will sweat, and you will only appreciate those people who will wipe the sweat off. You will probably say you can’t do it. You will need the people who will look you in the face and say with conviction “Yes, you can.” You will be in pain. You may throw up. Don’t invite anyone if you aren’t okay with them seeing you at your worst.
When I was pregnant with my second child and planning for a much desired VBAC, I made my choice of labor companions based on who would be useful to me. I wanted people who could support me through the process, but I didn’t want anyone coming who didn’t have a role to play. I chose carefully and selectively, and I didn’t regret those decisions.
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with birth “observers” is that their presence can slow labor down (not what you want). You know that phrase “a watched pot never boils”? Yep, applies to labor too. Ideally, your birth companions are working almost as hard as you are to keep you going.
Caveat: (There’s always a caveat for rules, isn’t there? Especially in birth…) A few women out there are social birthers, who appreciate being surrounded by a gaggle of women while birthing. However, even if you are one of these women, it is critical to carefully evaluate who will be helpful to you and who may potentially disrupt your labor rhythm before giving out invitations. It's okay to have many people at your birth if that's what you need. If they're coming for any other reason, you may want to reconsider.
By the way, the no warm bodies rule applies after the baby is born also. Especially for the first two to four weeks, you will be sore, milky, elated, cranky, sleepy, and confused. You need people who can bring dinners, fold laundry and entertain older children. Put off anyone who you feel like you need to straighten up the house for. People love newborn babies so much (who wouldn’t?) that they often forget what that sweet baby’s parents are going through.