Doula vs Midwife: Do you Need Both? What’s the Difference?

Certified doulas and midwives are not the same. Learn the difference and if your needs are suited to one, the other, or both.

Support is important for women during pregnancy, and this support can extend beyond the obstetrician, friends and family. Both doulas and midwives provide an additional important layer of support. However, they are not the same.

What is a Midwife?

A certified midwife is a health professional who helps women with labor, delivery and the postpartum period. Not all midwives have the same level of training. A certified nurse-midwife (a ”CNM”) is a registered nurse with accredited midwife training. On the other hand, a certified midwife (a “CM”) has a degree in a health field and has passed an accredited midwife program, but is not a nurse. Then there are the certified professional midwives who are not nurses but have passed an exam and have clinical childbirth training.

The services of a midwife will depend on their level of training and the services they choose to offer. While all help deliver babies, others provide practical support, work with your medical team, and help educate the family on what to expect from the process. Some states only allow CNMs to practice while others also allow both CNMs and CMs to practice; doing your research to choose a certified, experienced midwife is very important.

What are Certified Doulas?

Certified doulas have undergone a training program and passed an exam in order to achieve certification. Their primary role is to support the expectant parent physically and emotionally. The do not deliver babies and they do not provide any medical care.

There are different types of doulas. Some only provide support during pregnancy, labor and delivery (often referred to as birth doulas). On the other hand, postpartum doulas provide support during those very challenging, sleepless nights after the baby is born. Postpartum doulas sometimes also help with chores and provide breastfeeding support (but are not lactation consultants). One doula may perform all these services or specialize in one area. Again, it is important to do one’s research to ensure needs are met.

Do expectant parents need both?

You must have at least a midwife or an obstetrician during childbirth, but a doula is optional, and is there to make sure you have continuous support and advocacy in the labor and delivery room. It is very common for there to be both a doula and a midwife, or a doula and an obstetrician present during childbirth.

According to the National Library of Medicine’s Impact of Doulas on Healthy Birth Outcomes report, “Expectant mothers matched with a doula had better birth outcomes. Doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low birth weight baby, two times less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding.”

While a doula or a midwife is a personal choice, a doula has been proven to help with positive birth outcomes and lowered incidences of post-partum depression. Choosing certified doulas is wonderful to have much-needed support during and after pregnancy.


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