As soon as I tell people I am a doula, many immediately assume I can “catch” or deliver their baby. Once I explain to them that I don’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. We both care for expecting women, so we understand this can be unclear. However, our roles are quite different. So, what is the difference between a doula vs. a midwife? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a midwife?
Midwives are the traditional care providers for mothers and infants. Midwives are trained professionals with expertise and skills in supporting women. They help maintain healthy pregnancies and optimal births and recoveries during the postpartum period. They 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
What is a doula?
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 health and well-being of you and your baby during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum (a midwife). The other offers physical, emotional, and informational support, like a birthing coach during pregnancy, birth, and immediately postpartum (a doula).
Doula vs. Midwife
A midwife is a care provider that replaces the care that you would receive from an OB/GYN. They do prenatal visits with you, check the baby’s heart rate and growth, ensure everything is progressing well, and more. (Learn more about the difference between a midwife vs. an OB/GYN.) So if you are healthy, have a healthy pregnancy, and are low-risk, you can receive medical care from a midwife.
Many people still don’t understand that you can have a midwife as your care provider for a hospital birth (if your hospital has a midwifery practice there), a home birth, or a birth center birth. They aren’t only supporting women at home births. They can support women wherever they decide to give birth.
NOTE: You are encouraged to always receive medical care from either an obstetrician or a midwife during your pregnancy, labor, and birth. We do not recommend unassisted births even when you have a doula present because doulas do not provide medical support.
A doula is not someone who replaces the care of an obstetrician or a midwife. The doula’s role complements theirs. This is why you can hire a doula whether you receive care from an OB/GYN or a midwife. Doulas attend births in all settings and all types of births (natural, epidural, or c-section) because she provides continuous labor support (physical, emotional, and information) to the laboring woman and her partner. Your midwife or doctor has a vital role and is busy checking on you and your baby’s health and safety. Your doula helps you with position changes, breathing techniques, and comfort measures, informs you of your options along the way, provides 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 vs. a doula. So if someone tells you that they are hiring a doula, it does not necessarily mean they are having their baby at home or having a natural birth. It means that she wants extra support through her birthing experience that her doctor or midwife might be unable to provide. And if someone tells you that she has hired a midwife, it does not always mean she is having her baby at home. It means that she is low-risk, healthy, and is not receiving care from an obstetrician for her pregnancy and birth. This allows her to have her baby at a hospital, birth center, or home, depending on who she selects as her midwife.
A family can hire a midwife and a doula for their birth experience. The care they provide is very different, but both are very important.