The Difference Between a Doula and a Midwife

I’m getting ready to attend a holiday party this evening and I'm really looking forward to it. I love getting dressed up, meeting new people, and stuffing my face with gingerbread cookies. There is one minor hiccup when it comes to introductions, though. Here is how it usually goes...

ME: Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Shalini.

OTHER PERSON: Hi, I’m [insert random name]. What do you do?

ME: I’m a doula.

And that's when things start to go awry...

OTHER PERSON: “A do-WHAT?” or “That’s like a midwife right?" or  “Oh you deliver babies?”

You get the picture.

Birth Doulas (postpartum doulas also exist and will be explained in a later post) and Midwives may seem similar since they’re both people who support women in labor, but their roles in the childbirth process are actually very different.

Midwives are health care providers who can deliver your baby in your home, at a birthing center, or in the hospital. Many people choose to hire midwives instead of OBs. A doula, while a great complement to any medical provider, does not replace your midwife or OB. They do not make any medical decisions or take any medical actions such as performing vaginal exams, taking blood pressure, or catching the baby. 

Better Birth Doula created a great analogy to help remember the difference. You can think of your labor support team as the key people in a wedding. 

Birthing parents - Bride and Groom
Midwife - Officiant
Doula - Maid of Honor

Below is a chart explaining the key differences between the responsibilities of birth doulas and midwives.

Doulas vs. Midwives

Help you articulate your vision for your birth and assist you in creating your birth planExamine, diagnose, and treat you medically during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum
Direct you to resources in your community for pregnant women and familiesRun prenatal tests on you and your baby
Help keep you and your partner feeling calm and supported during laborPrescribe maternal health related supplements or medications
Use massage, acupressure, breathing techniques, visualization exercises, and laboring positions to alleviate the intense sensations of birth and help your labor progress Monitor you and your baby during labor and birth
Ensure you feel confident communicating your needs to your health care providerPhysically aid in the delivery of your baby
Provide postpartum emotional support and help with breastfeedingTheir primary responsibility will be the health of you and your baby

Both doulas and midwives can have significant impacts on your birthing experience.  If you're planning on having a child soon, it's important to keep in mind the role that each one plays and the benefits they can provide.  Best of all, there's no need to choose between them - you can have both!

Deborah Simone, LM and  Hilah Zohar

Deborah Simone, LM and Hilah Zohar


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