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The Difference Between a Midwife and a Doula

The Difference Between a Midwife and a Doula

Last week we wrote about the difference between a lactation consultant and a lactation counselor. Today, we’re covering doulas and midwives. 

It’s easy to confuse the roles of doulas and midwives—they do offer some similar forms of support—but, we’re hoping this breakdown offers a bit more clarity about each role and what you can expect from working with one. 

Doulas

Many families think of doulas as an advisor or childbirth counselor, and that’s a pretty fair assessment. A doula is a non-medical assistant for women before, during and after giving birth to their baby. Doulas are the first people you call when there’s something you’re uncertain about baby-wise, or if you need medical help. 

Doulas are very helpful in emotionally and physically supporting a woman as she gives birth and to help facilitate the most stress-free environment through various techniques. For example, a doula is well-versed in breathing techniques, relaxation methods including massage, optimal labor positions and supporting the woman’s spouse, partner, family and friends throughout the process. 

In short, doulas are there not as a medical professional, but as an advisor. They are supportive, calming and all-around pleasant to be around. 

Here are a few areas in which a doula is extra helpful: 

  • Learning as much information as you can relating to childbirth and taking care of your newborn
  • Helping you determine what a contraction feels like and when to expect them
  • Receiving guidance on whether to have an epidural (or other option) ahead of labor
  • Having them on-hand during labor to help you with breathing and changing positions 
  • Providing emotional support and working to calm nerves that trigger anxiety or fear

There are less qualifications needed to be a doula than say, a lactation consultant or counselor. Currently, there is no law requiring doulas to be certified; however, many working doulas are certified in some courses and do undergo special training.

Midwives

While a doula takes on the role of an advisor, a midwife takes a more medical approach. Midwives can be either men or women and they must complete special education and training in order to be certified to work in this profession. 

In addition to working with doctors during childbirth, many midwives deliver babies on their own for moms who opt for a home birth. During childbirth, you’ll often see midwives working alongside doctors, nurses and doulas, making for a real team effort. 

These medical experts are qualified to do the following: 

  • Perform a gynecological examinations (pap smears, pelvic exams, breast exams)
  • Prep you for a cesarean section birth
  • Conduct an ultrasound and fetal monitoring during pregnancy and labor
  • Monitor the mom and the baby using CTG and other machines
  • Deliver babies vaginally, stitch your tears and perform an episiotomy 
  • Provide counseling for women who are planning to get pregnant

It’s important to note that even though midwives need to be able to ‘step in’ during labor to assist the doctor, they are not obstetricians and therefore, are not qualified to diagnose conditions relating to childbirth or prescribe treatment. Midwives will not perform emergency C-sections or make decisions if there is a complication during the delivery. 

Which should you work with?

You might not have to choose! Both midwives and doulas are there to support the mother, but they serve different roles. For example, a doula is more focused on the mother during childbirth, while a midwife and the medical team focus on the mother and the baby. 

There are typically two types of doulas: one that supports women during labor (birth doula) and those who provide support to new parents after they’ve given birth (postpartum doula). Depending on your family needs, you might choose to have a midwife present during your baby’s birth and then work with a postpartum doula once you’re settled back at home.

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