What’s the Difference Between a Midwife and a Doula?

what is the difference between a midwife and a doula, doulas, midwives, natural hospital births, baby chick

By Nina Spears

The Baby Chick® & CEO of Baby Chick®

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Nina Spears is the Co-Founder & CEO of Baby Chick, an online go-to resource for all things motherhood and the Founder & CEO of Bassett Baby Planning, the premier doula agency and resource center in Houston, TX for expecting and new mothers. Read More

As soon as I tell people that I am a doula, a lot of them immediately assume that I can “catch” or deliver their baby. Once I explain to them that I can’t do that because I am not a midwife, they become confused. “Aren’t they the same thing?,” they ask. No. The two jobs are very different from one another. Yes, we both provide care to women that are expecting so we understand that this can be confusing, however, our roles are quite different. This is a common misunderstanding so I wanted to explain it a little further.

Midwives are the traditional care providers for mothers and infants. Midwives are trained professionals with expertise and skills in supporting women to maintain healthy pregnancies and have optimal births and recoveries during the postpartum period. Midwives provide women with individualized care uniquely suited to their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs. Midwifery is a woman-centered empowering model of maternity care. — mana.org

Doulas are trained professionals who provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible. — dona.org

The biggest difference between the two is one provides medical care and monitors the healthy and well-being of you and your baby during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum(a midwife), and the other provides physical, emotional and informational support like a birthing coach during your pregnancy, birth and immediately postpartum(a doula).

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Midwives

A midwife is a care provider that replaces the care that you would receive from an OB/GYN. They do your prenatal visits with you, check on the baby’s heart rate and growth, make sure that everything is progressing well and more. I have explained in detail the difference between an OB/GYN and a midwife in a previous post. So if you are healthy and having a healthy pregnancy and are low-risk, you are qualified to receive medical care from a midwife.

What a lot of people still don’t understand is that you can have a midwife as your care provider for a hospital birth (if your hospital has a midwifery practice there) or a home birth or a birth center birth. They aren’t only supporting women at home births. They can support women wherever you decide to give birth.

NOTE: It is encouraged that you always receive medical care during your pregnancy, labor and birth by either an obstetrician or a midwife. We do not recommend unassisted births even when you have a doula present because doulas do not provide medical support.

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Doulas

A doula is not someone who replaces the care of an obstetrician or a midwife. Her role compliments theirs. This is why you can hire a doula whether you decide to receive care from a OB/GYN or a midwife. Doulas attend births in all settings and all types of births (naturalepidural or c-section) because her role is to provide continuous labor support (physical, emotional, and information) to the laboring woman and her partner. Your midwife or doctor has a very important role and is busy checking on you and your baby’s health and safety. Your doula helps you with position changes, breathing techniques, comfort measures, informing you on your options along the way, providing continuous in-person support and more. Even when hiring a doula, you must have a midwife or a doctor supporting you. Your doula does not replace their care.

There you have it! That’s the difference between a midwife and a doula. So if someone tells you that they are hiring a doula, it does not necessarily mean that they are having their baby at home or having a natural birth. It means that she is wanting extra support through her birthing experience that her doctor or midwife might not be able to provide. And if someone is telling you that she has hired a midwife, it does not always mean that she is having her baby at home. It means that she is is low-risk, healthy and is not receiving care from an obstetrician for her pregnancy and birth. This allows her to have your baby at a hospital, at a birth center or at home depending on who she selects as her midwife.

A family can hire both a midwife and a doula for their birth experience because the care that they both provide is very different but both very important. 🙂

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Did you have a midwife and/or doula supporting you at your birth? What was your experience like?

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