What’s the Difference Between a Midwife and a Doula?
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. 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
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 your pregnancy, birth, and immediately postpartum (a doula).
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 HERE. 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 they 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.
A doula is not someone who replaces the care of an obstetrician or a midwife. The doula’s role compliments theirs. This is why you can hire a doula whether you decide to 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 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 wants 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 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 at home, depending on who she selects as her midwife.
A family can hire both a midwife and a doula for their birth experience. The care that they both provide is very different, but both very important. 🙂