What’s the Difference Between a Doula and a Midwife?


It’s amazing how many times I get asked this question: What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife? I love this question because it opens the door for women to learn more about how to have an empowering, supported birth experience.

When I answer this question, I simply say: Doulas are trained to offer emotional and physical support to moms in labor. Midwives catch babies.

Of course the answer above is the VERY abbreviated version, but it’s true. Then I go on to say that doulas are not medically trained. Instead of attending medical training, doulas complete a doula training course. Sometimes doulas also complete a doula internship like the one offered by the Minnesota Birth Center, https://theminnesotabirthcenter.com/doula-interns/.

Doulas begin their practice connecting with expecting moms that desire extra support throughout their pregnancy. Doulas focus on providing evidence-based information and helping moms advocate for themselves in labor so that they can experience their best birth. Many doulas pursue additional certifications like the IBCLC certification, which stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Your doula can also be a wonderful support for your birth partner. Sometimes my clients worry that hiring a doula to support them in labor will make their husband feel obsolete. Quite the opposite!!! When you hire a doula you’re giving your husband or birth partner a safety net. Doulas can help lower the level of stress that birth partners experience when they see their loved one in pain or working hard to push their baby out.

Many dads have never seen a birth before. They’re not sure what to expect. So expecting your partner to be an amazing labor support person when they have no experience and no exposure to labor and birth just isn’t fair. I always reassure my clients that I’m there to support them and their partner. In fact, the majority of my “dad” clients report that having a doula during the birth was amazing and made their experience of meeting their newborn more enjoyable.

What about midwives?

There are three types of midwives. However, for the purpose of this blog post I’ll focus on Certified Nurse Midwives or CNMs for short. Certified Nurse Midwives are Registered Nurses that have pursued advanced medical training in a Masters or Doctorate level program. Typically they have 6 – 7 years of training in their field (if you include the years of study to achieve the Bachelor or Science in Nursing degree).

CNMs have all of the training required to provide care for moms during pregnancy, labor and birth, and postpartum. CNMs also provide care for newborns. When you birth in a birth center, for example, your CNM will do the newborn exam.

CNMs also provide well woman care! So even if your baby is a year old, you can still get care from your midwife. You can schedule your annual exam or be seen for family planning.

Finally, it’s important to note that doulas and midwives work together to support laboring moms in birth centers and hospitals.

Having a doula at your birth means that you and your birthing partner get support that is tailored to you. Having a doula at your birth means that you have a better chance of having a vaginal birth.

I also believe that having a birth doula keeps your medical team accountable. When you have another professional in the room like a doula, it encourages nurses, midwives, and physicians to provide excellent care. Doulas provide that extra layer of comprehensive care that is often missing in our health system.

Lastly, let’s not forget the amazing support that postpartum doulas provide! You’ll find doulas that offer pregnancy, birth, and postpartum support. You’ll also find doulas that specialize in postpartum support specifically. Specialized postpartum doulas can help with baby care, troubleshooting breastfeeding, preparing nutritious meals, and helping moms transition during the intense and beautiful postpartum journey. For a preview of what postpartum doula services look like, I recommend taking a look at the services offered by Midwest Doulas. You can find the website here: https://www.midwestdoulas.com/services/.

I’ll provide some resources below so that you can learn more about doulas and midwives.

In the meantime, you should know that most doulas are hired by the families they work with. So, if you’re planning to have doula support, start planning for that investment now. It will be so worth it! You can create a doula fund, for example. Consider opening a savings account and contributing to it during your pregnancy so that you have the funds to hire a doula when you’re ready.

To learn more about doulas, visit https://www.dona.org/.

To learn more about Certified Nurse Midwives, visit http://ourmomentoftruth.com/.

To learn more about how an IBCLC trained doula or RN can support you, visit https://www.ilca.org/main/why-ibclc/ibclc.

I look forward to connecting with you!

Elizabeth Summers, RN, BSN
Pregnancy Coach, Birth Doula, & Registered Nurse
Owner & Founder of Elizabeth Summers Wellness


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