Throughout history, women in labor have been helped and comforted by other women. Those serving as "support" stayed throughout labor and provided physical comfort, emotional support, and information to the woman in labor.
While childbirth has changed a great deal from early civilization, the benefits of labor support have not. Today, labor support can be provided by a man or a woman. In addition to coaching women through labor and catering to their physical and emotional needs, today's labor support serve as the main source of communication between the woman in labor and the medical professionals during delivery.
It's very important that you talk with your choice of labor support before delivery about what you want from childbirth. Make sure to clearly express your feelings on cesareans, vacuum extractions, forceps delivery, episiotomies, other labor complications, and pain-relieving drugs. This person will then be your representative in labor when you may be too tired or in too much pain to discuss your feelings with the doctor.