Often, when I meet someone new and share that I’m a doula, the response I receive is “Oh! So, like a midwife?” It is true that there are many similarities between a doula and a midwife. After all, both doulas and midwives serve pregnant women, attend births, and provide postpartum care. Doulas and midwives often work alongside each other, but there are key differences between these two careers.
The first difference between a doula and a midwife is the level of education required. It is not required for doulas to complete a college degree, or even to be certified with a doula training organization (though many doulas are certified!). Midwives, on the other hand, are highly trained and often have completed a master’s degree. There are different types of midwives: Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Midwives, and Certified Professional Midwives. Certified Nurse Midwives hold degrees in both nursing and midwifery, while the other types of midwives have completed programs in midwifery. In short, midwives are rigorously trained and licensed, while doulas are not required to be.
Midwives and doulas support pregnant and postpartum women in different ways. Because midwives are licensed care providers, they can perform many of the same tasks as OB/GYNs. Some of these tasks include providing prenatal care, administering pain medications, performing vaginal exams and catching the baby. The key difference between doulas and midwives is that doulas are not medical professionals. Doulas are well-versed in non-medical pain management techniques and know when to use them throughout the different stages of labor. Doulas provide informational, emotional, and physical support throughout the prenatal period, labor and delivery, and postpartum period. Doulas often help their clients advocate for themselves and for their wishes.
Continuing to work with a midwife or a postpartum doula throughout the postpartum period can be highly beneficial to parents. The support of a doula or a midwife can also be instrumental in establishing a positive breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby. If parents choose to feed with formula, midwives and doulas are able to help new parents establish an appropriate feeding routine. Midwives can perform exams and provide medical care in the weeks following birth to ensure that both mother and baby are healthy, but, as mentioned above, medical support is in the realm of midwifery so doulas are not able to perform these tasks.
Both midwives and doulas attend births in a variety of settings: at home, at a birth center, or in a hospital. Choosing to work with a midwife is an excellent alternative to an OB/GYN and choosing to hire a doula ensures that you will be supported physically and emotionally throughout your pregnancy and postpartum period. There are many wonderful midwives here in the Northern Virginia area that we absolutely love to work with. Please reach out to us if you'd like to learn more about how a doula can support you!