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QUESTION

Midwest, USA

Curious about a woman who goes into labor on Shabbat. Clearly we allow her husband to drive to the hospital with her. Would we allow him to do this if he was driving separately? What about other support people who are part of her “birth plan” (like a mother or sister)? What about someone like a doula, who is not part of the medical team, but is a trained support person who the woman is expecting to be there? (Let’s assume everyone is Jewish.)

ANSWER

Yes. The rule is that you do things for a woman giving birth even if they are technically unnecessary in order to calm her down and make her feel supported (Shulchan Arukh OC 330:1, Mishnah Berurah 330:3). This is even an issur de’orayta like lighting a candle. So – while we of course try to minimize chilul as much as possible, if the person she wants or feels she needs isn’t with her and has to come separately, it is permitted.

It is also quite important to remember that this is not just about mental state. Patients with family members, etc., get more attention and better care than those who don’t, and these family members can advocate for them and their needs.

The question arises as to what is the limit – can she call for her husband, mother, and doula that they should all come, even separately?

Some poskim permit this – anything she needs to calm herself down – others disagree and say that except in exceptional cases, where she can’t be calmed down, it is hard to justify more chilul Shabbat when someone is already there to support her. One should really follow this latter approach unless circumstances demand otherwise. (Of course, if her husband comes and they get into a fight, and she needs her mother – or if just, stam, she realizes that even though her husband is there, she really needs her mother – then definitely her mother can come). Basically – there is judgment and common sense that has to be used here.

Some sources: Iggrot Moshe OC 1:132, Nishmat Avraham OC 278:4