I first learned about doulas and midwives when I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born. This documentary follows expecting parents and gives information on hospital births and home births, comparing and contrasting the two. If you’ve never heard of either of these roles, it can be easy to conflate the two. Although doulas and midwives can work together to facilitate an at-home or hospital birth, they play slightly different roles in the birthing process.
What is a midwife?
Midwives are certified medical professionals who receive training that enables them to perform gynecological exams, prenatal care, family planning consultations, and delivering a baby. Essentially, anything that a gynecologist would do, a midwife can be certified and trained to do as well. Some midwives are even certified nurses as well. The main difference between a midwife and a traditional labor and delivery doctor is that midwives strive to facilitate “natural” or unmedicated births as much as possible, as long as conditions are safe. Because of this, midwives often are used for at-home births, although they could also deliver in a less traditional hospital setting as well.
When hiring a midwife, it’s common for many expecting parents to also consult with their doctor and have a backup birthing plan for the hospital if there are complications with the home birth. It’s also important to note, between the midwife’s training and your doctor’s training, if there are any complications prior to birth that indicate an at-home, unmedicated birth would be dangerous, the midwife will assist you and your doctor at a hospital.
What is a doula?
Midwives assist with all of the medical support during pregnancy and labor, while doulas facilitate all of the emotional support during pregnancy, labor, and sometimes after labor as well. Doulas are trained in nonmedical techniques to assist during pregnancy and labor such as massage, meditation, alternate labor positions, and breathing techniques to assist during birth. Doulas can also advocate for you during birth, communicating your birth plan and desires to your doctor or midwife to ensure you get the birthing experience you want.
For example, if you are experiencing a great deal of pain during labor, and your doctor dismisses the severity of the issue, your doula is there to advocate for you to ensure you get the care you need. Doulas can also help during the postpartum period as well, assisting with learning to breastfeed and helping you manage any hormonal changes, anxieties, or depression you might feel.
Working with both doulas and midwives
Some people work with both a midwife and a doula, while others use a doula with their doctor, or just a midwife. Whatever option provides the most support and comfort during pregnancy and childbirth is the way to go. The training for midwives and doulas is quite different, as midwives have medical training, and doulas are trained for emotional and physical support.
Hiring a doula or midwife to assist in your pregnancy, labor, and postpartum experience may relieve stress and provide immense support for you and your partner or family during the process.