Health & Wellness

Understanding the Differences Between a Doula and a Midwife

Many women, and especially first-time mothers, often conflate doulas with midwives. While it’s true that both offer similar types of services, they’re actually quite different from one another. One of the main similarities the two roles do share. However, is the fact that it’s typically mothers who wish to have a drug-free birth who hire them. With that being said, there are still some major differences when it comes to using a doula vs. midwife for home births

The main difference that you need to consider between the two is this: a doula is more of a guide or “coach,” whereas a midwife is a medical professional—still confused? Don’t worry, below we go into the details behind these differences, and also cover why you might want to choose one option over the over. 

Whether you’re a soon-to-be mother, have a partner that’s going to be giving birth soon, or are simply curious about some of the birthing options/services available out there, we have you covered. The following sections detail everything you want to know about choosing a doula vs. a midwife, as well as the benefits that each service provider offers for expecting mothers. 

Doulas: Just the Facts

Doulas differ from midwives in the fact that their purpose isn’t solely medical. That is, they provide emotional, physical, and sometimes even spiritual support to mothers during all the stages of pregnancy. Doulas tend to craft a custom birthing plan around a mother’s specific needs (as in, emotional and physical needs). The point of this is to allow the mother to have as much control over her birthing process as possible, which in turn leads to a more fulfilling experience

One important fact that needs to be noted is this: doulas are not medical professionals. They’re not licensed actually to deliver babies. This is why it makes more sense to think of doulas as birthing guides and/or coaches. 

Doulas provide coaching services to the mother before, during, and after her pregnancy. This might include advice on labor positions, providing physical support (e.g., breathing support, massages, etc.), and a multitude of other tactics (all of which aim to provide the mother with an empowering birth). 

Most doulas are the type that is actually present during the birthing/labor process. However, there are also two other types of doulas. Some doulas specialize in pre-labor coaching/guidance, and others specialize in post-birth guidance (and then there are some that specialize in all three phases). 

Midwives: What You Need to Know

Midwives, in direct opposition to doulas, are medically trained healthcare professionals. Nearly all midwives have attended some form of medical training (or completed comparable training). In the United States, the certifications that a midwife must have in order to practice depend on the specific state the midwife is located in (e.g., California might have different laws than New York).

Some midwives are certified to perform physical exams, write prescriptions, and monitor the fetus. The specific certifications of a midwife depend on the level of schooling that the midwife has attained. Midwives are 100% medically qualified to deliver babies (unlike doulas – who serve primarily as birthing guides). 

While the majority of midwives prefer to use natural birthing methods (i.e., without interventions). They are qualified to determine when that is (or is not) the appropriate course. There are also a large number of midwives who have attended nursing school. These midwives are among the most highly qualified in the birthing industry. 

Deciding Between a Doula and a Midwife

Many women think that they can only choose one or the other. But you can actually choose to hire both a doula and a midwife. The doula can serve as a pre-birth guide/coach (and also remain present during the actual birth as well), and then the midwife can serve as the medical professional (who is able to provide expert medical assistance if needed). 

If you’re wondering about how much each of these services costs. It really depends on where you live as well as the experience level of the doula/midwife you’re interested in hiring. Larger cities will almost always be more expensive than in rural areas. However, the quality of care in these areas is also typically higher. 

Whatever you end up choosing, you need to choose your provider carefully. Keep your budget in mind, but also don’t go with the cheapest option. It’s important to pick an experienced, well-regarded doula and a midwife for your birthing process.


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