Doula Vs. Midwife: What's The Difference, And How Do You Choose?

What’s The Difference Between A Doula And A Midwife? And Do I Need Either (Or Both)?

October 26, 2020 Updated November 26, 2020

Doula showing labor positions to a pregnant woman
Newman Studio/Getty Images

As soon as your pregnancy journey begins, so do the questions. Not only will you be pondering the perfect name for your little peanut, but you’ll also be preparing to make some pretty important pregnancy decisions. One of the first quandaries you may face is who you want on your health care team as you make your way towards labor and delivery. And at some point in your pondering, you’ll probably start asking yourself about a doula vs. midwife and the differences between the two. Do you need one? Do you need both? Will they be delivering your baby? There’s a lot to mull over, so let’s jump right into this discussion.

Until now, you may even have thought that doulas and midwives do the same thing. That’s an understandable mistake to make, as they do both help moms-to-be get through pregnancy and delivery. However, there are a few key differences between the two. To understand them, you’ll first need to compare and contrast what they do.

What is a doula?

Think of a doula as a sort of birth coach. ICYMI, bringing a tiny human in this world can be tough. It’s exhausting in essentially every way. A doula helps get you through that by offering emotional, physical, and mental support. And it isn’t relegated just to labor and delivery. Depending on the doula you choose, they may be along for much of the pregnancy ride in some capacity — particularly the closer you get to your due date. Such doulas offer antepartum (before birth) care. Some doulas similarly offer postpartum care to tend to a new mom’s needs after birth.

During labor, a doula might give you massages, help you in and out of a birthing pool, recommend different labor positions, coach your breathing, and more. One major benefit of a doula is having an experienced birth advocate at your side throughout your side during a time you’re bound to feel overwhelmed. Plus, although a doula’s primary role is being there for mama (in Greek, doula means “woman’s servant”), they also offer ancillary support to partners.

Do doulas deliver babies?

While many doulas seek rigorous certification training on childbirth, they are not considered clinical medical professionals. They aren’t able to offer medical advice or prescribe medications. Their main role in the delivery space is to support Mama and offer assistance to the midwife or doctor as needed. It’s worth noting that many women who choose to have a doula report a more comfortable birthing experience (and have been found to request less pain medication during labor).

Disadvantages of doulas

Having support during your delivery is always great, but when it comes to getting a doula there are a few drawbacks to consider beforehand. We want to help you make the best decisions for you and your family for this incredible moment in your life. So here are a few notes to mull over before bringing a doula into your delivery.

In some cases, a doula can take over the role of your partner. The support and physical assurance your doula is hired to provide is something that your husband can also offer during your delivery. Are we saying that your partner and doula offer the same support — no. But we are saying their level and type of care is similar. So if you want this experience to be a bit more intimate between you and your partner, it might be a good idea to lose the doula.

What is a nurse-midwife?

Much like a doula, midwives serve the laboring mom by acting as an advocate on her behalf. But since a midwife is also a trained medical professional, they can play a more hands-on role in delivery. This includes:

  • Performing gynecological exams
  • Offering prenatal care
  • Prescribing labor-inducing medications
  • Ordering an epidural
  • Administering pain meds
  • Teaching mom to breastfeed
  • Delivering a baby vaginally

To become a nurse-midwife, one must first become a registered nurse. They can then seek higher education that includes a nursewife component. Most nurse-midwives hold a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN).

Do midwives do ultrasounds?

Per the American College of Nurse-Midwives, more and more midwives are adding ultrasound certification to their resumes.

So, do you need both?

To deliver your baby, you’re going to need either a nurse-midwife or an obstetrician (and definitely the latter in the event of a C-section). As for whether you should also have a doula, well, it can only help! Bringing your baby into the world is a big deal, and you’ll be feeling all of the things. Having another trained pro there to help guide you through it could prove invaluable.