I’ll never forget the first time I was asked about my work by a distant relative. The conversation went something like this;
“I’m studying to be a Labor Doula.”
“A Doula.” I enunciated more clearly.
“No, it’s a L-A-B-O-R D---”
“Oh, labor like at a worksite?”
“No, it’s a person who supports expecting parents through their pregnancy and as they deliver their baby”, I explained.
“Ohhh, I see! That’s cool!”
“Thanks, I’m really excited!” I responded, thinking of ways I could make that explanation easier next time, and then they added;
“Yeah, I always thought that was called a ‘Midwife’ or something…”
Needless to say, I quickly changed my personal title to “Birth Doula” in effort to help add some clarity to my initial response. But the comparison of Midwife to Birth Doula is still a common thought and something I find myself explaining on a regular basis. Hopefully our blog post today will help redefine the two roles for our readers!
We've talked about what a Labor/Birth Doula does in a previous blog post (What is a Doula?), but what is the difference between a Midwife and a Birth Doula?
Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) describes a Midwife as:
“Midwives are the traditional care providers for mothers and infants. Midwives are trained professionals with expertise and skills in supporting women to maintain healthy pregnancies and have optimal births and recoveries during the postpartum period. Midwives provide women with individualized care uniquely suited to their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs. Midwifery is a woman-centered, empowering model of maternity care that is utilized in all of the countries of the world with the best maternal and infant outcomes such as The Netherlands, United Kingdom and Canada.”
The primary difference between a Midwife and a Birth/Labor Doula is;
- Midwives are healthcare professionals who care for both the pregnant parent and baby/ies prenatally as well as through the labor and delivery, catching the baby and placenta.
- Whereas a Doula is a trained companion, supporting the expecting family through pregnancy, labor and delivery, offering informational knowledge and assisting in making the birthing parent as comfortable as possible.
A Midwife is a Licensed Medical Professional. A Doula is a Certified Labor Companion.
Care with a Midwife may include the following;
- Prenatal appointments in person to measure baby bump, monitor baby/ies, check in with the family and pregnant parent and makes sure that everything/everyone is healthy and well. These appointments are typically 2-3 times as long as prenatal visits with a Doctor and many expecting moms relish that.
- Depending on the Midwifes’ credentials and where the family is planning to deliver, a Midwife can offer care at homebirths, birthing center births, and/or hospital births.
- If the family contracts with a homebirth Midwife, they will be on call for the labor and birth. If the family chooses to have a birthing center or a hospital birth, they will have a group of Midwives who rotate and whomever is on call when they go into labor will be the provider who attends their birth.
- A Midwife offers medical care to the mother and baby throughout the labor. They come and go from the birthing area to allow the laboring team space to progress and they try to get rest/sleep in between check-ins to have more rest for the delivery.
- A Midwife guides the birthing parent through pushing and catches baby/ies once the mother delivers.
- They monitor the mothers’ and baby/ies’ health and guide the delivery of the placenta.
- If the mother needs a repair after the delivery, the Midwife will perform the procedure once they are settled cozy in a bed and can relax as much as possible. If the repair is in need of a Doctors’ assistance, the Midwife will ask for one to come to the birthing room and help (if the place of birth is a home or birthing center, their may need to be a transfer to a hospital to have a Doctors’ assistance).
- The Midwife checks in periodically after the birth to make sure everyone is doing okay.
- In hospital births, this is where the postpartum/Baby Nurse takes over and family is moved to the Mother/Baby Unit.
- In birthing center births, the family is usually able to rest for 12/24 hours before needing to pack up their belongings and head home. The Midwife will check in regularly until the family heads home. Then they will continue to connect with the family over the next few weeks to make sure everyone is doing well.
- In homebirths…the family is already home! The Midwife and their team will monitor and check in periodically for the first 24 hours and then several times throughout the coming weeks.
The Birth Doula
Support with a Doula may include the following;
- The Doula has prenatal visits with the expecting family to talk about what birth may look like, what preferences they have, and talk about realistic expectations. Some Birth Doulas offer tips and guidance with postpartum supplies and help plan the nursery set up for when the family brings baby/ies home.
- The Doula is on call for the labor and birth.
- Once the expecting parent goes into labor, the Doula is in constant contact with them and/or their partner/birth support to track how things are going.
- They arrive within 2 hours of being called to support the laboring mother.
- The Doula offers physical, informational and emotional support to the family as they labor. Nurses, Midwives and other healthcare staff may come and go from the birthing room, but the Doula remains close, providing continuity of care to the whole family.
- The Doula offers position changes, tips and tricks to help the laboring parent, words of encouragement, etc…
- They are present for the birth, vaginal as well as cesarean (if the hospital staff permits them into the Operating Room). For vaginal births, a Doula coaches through pushing, offers a cool washcloth, helps partner/birthsupporter find the optimal position to be in for delivery, etc… For cesarean births, the Doula takes pictures, holds the birthing mothers’ hand, talks to the mother and offers words of encouragement.
- Once the delivery is over, if the birthing parent is wanting to keep their placenta, the Doula will advocate for that and;
- If they are NOT keeping it for human consumption will stow it in a cooler in the client’s car,
- If they ARE keeping it for human consumption and the Doula themselves are processing it, they will stow it in a cooler on ice and put it in their own car to later process at the clients’ home,
- Or, if the family has another Placenta Specialist set up to process the Placenta, the Doula can contact this person to let them know it’s ready and handle the pass off when they arrive at the place of birth (Placenta Specialists are always on-call for the birth as well!)
- The Birth/Labor Doula remains with the family for 1-2 hours after the birth and generally waits until the mother and baby/ies are snuggled in bed and ready to take a long deserved nap!
- The Doula will be in touch with the family and come to their home for 1-2 postpartum/post-birth visits to see how everyone is doing and talk about how the birth went.
Two very different roles, the Midwife and Doula work closely together to provide the most optimal care for the birthing family.
If you have questions regarding the care that a Doula may provide you, please feel free to reach out to us at anytime. We have a list of wonderful Midwives who we recommend on our Resource page located here;
Thank you for sharing a part of your day with us!
Until next week...
Doula, SD Owner, Placenta Specialist