Doula vs. Midwife: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated: February 16, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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I had a friend text me recently asking me about doula vs. midwife. And I eagerly answered, “There is a HUGE difference!”.

In short, a midwife is a professional, medically trained individual that can deliver babies (along with providing a lot of other women’s health care). A doula is a professionally trained labor or postpartum support person. She is not medically trained or able to deliver babies.

I did a little research of my own and asked a few other people the same question: “Do you know the difference between a doula and a midwife?”. I was shocked at the responses.

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Doula vs. Midwife two TOTALLY different roles

I’m going to be completely honest, I just assumed almost everyone knew the difference! I had no idea they got mixed up as frequently as they do. Answers ranged from “Aren’t they the same?” to “What is a doula anyway?

Once I realized there really was a disconnect between a doula vs a midwife, I knew I had to write a post on it! There is a BIG difference, guys, and I’m HAPPY to explain – let’s unpack it below!

Doula vs. Midwife: What does a Midwife do?

*Disclaimer* I’m from the United States, so I’m going to be talking about what I know the criteria to be for midwives here in the US. It can vary from country to country, so if you’re not from my neck of the woods, just know this info may not align correctly with how your country trains midwives, and their scope of practice.

A midwife is a practitioner who specializes in women’s health. They provide care related to:

  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive health
  • Family planning
  • Childbirth
  • Gynecology
  • Menopause
  • Fertility
  • And more!

They are NURSES! In fact, we sometimes refer to them as “Certified Nurse Midwives”. And, they’ve been to nursing school, just like I have!

So how is a midwife different than a labor and delivery nurse?

They’ve also all had additional training beyond traditional nursing school. They’ve first obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and then went on to receive a master’s degree specifically in midwifery. This is done at one of the forty midwifery education programs in the United States.

Midwives typically go through two years of specialized education, before sitting for their board examination. After passing, they can apply for jobs at doctor’s offices, OBGYN clinics, birth centers, and hospitals!

Midwife vs. OBGYN

You can think of a midwife similarly to how you view a nurse practitioner, in terms of education. They are usually not doctors, because they have not been to medical school (although there are some!), but they do perform similar care and have collaborative agreements with a licensed MD for when emergencies arise.

One BIG difference between a midwife and a doctor is that midwives do not perform any surgical procedures. This includes C-sections, or any sort of gynecological procedure (hysterectomy, getting your tubes tied etc.).

Most of the midwives that I know work at birth centers and are awesome providers! In fact, if you are thinking of having a natural delivery, and are interested in delivering outside of a hospital setting, look into midwifery care!

They are some of the most compassionate, knowledgeable providers out there in terms of natural birth. Many women have amazing labor experiences due to midwives!

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Doula vs. Midwife: Alright let’s talk about doulas!

A doula is a labor support person who helps you during your labor and birth (and sometimes with postpartum care too!). Many times they have been formally trained in childbirth, and also have taken a licensure exam, but this is not required to become a doula.

Actually, anyone can be a doula, or refer to themselves as a doula! WITH THAT SAID, the GOOD doulas, have been trained and officially licensed. Unless you are using a family member or friend as a doula, don’t pay anyone to be your doula unless they’ve been through some training! This is just my opinion.

The main difference between doulas and midwives?

The biggest difference between a doula and a midwife is that midwives can perform medical tasks, doulas cannot. Midwives can do cervical checks, perform vital signs, intervene if baby is in distress, and deliver babies!

Doulas provide AMAZING labor support and are labor natural pain management “experts” if you will, but they do not have medical training in the even of something going wrong or red flags arising.

In other words:

  • It is NOT advised (or safe) to give birth with just a doula even if you are having a home birth
  • While it is okay (in low-risk pregnancies) to deliver with only a midwife (especially because they usually practice alongside OBs who can step in during emergencies requiring surgery)

Related reading5 Important Symptoms to Tell Your OBGYN about Immediately

Doula vs. Midwife: So, what does a doula do? Good question!

A doula’s purpose throughout your labor and birth is to be your support person! Their roles include

  • Helping with position changes
  • Coaching you through breathing
  • Relaxation methods
  • Massage
  • They also do a really great job of keeping the room filled with positive vibes during your birth experience!

Doulas usually meet with you during your pregnancy and will interview you on how you envision your labor experience to be. They help create your birth plan and ask questions to determine your exact needs during labor.

These ladies are usually on-call for you around your due date and make themselves available once you believe you need them! Sometimes this is when you are 1 cm dilated, sometimes it’s when you are 4 or 5!

Some doulas will come to your house, others will meet you at your location of delivery (whether it be your own home, birth center or hospital).

After delivery, they usually are very helpful with breastfeeding and bonding as well!

Related Reading: Old Wives’ Tales about Pregnancy

Related Reading: 10 Ways to Relieve Constipation during Pregnancy

Can’t my partner just be my doula?

Big fat NO! Doulas and partners are not interchangeable people. Your partner may provide you with an exceptional amount of labor support, and a doula is there to enhance that experience! Having a doula during delivery also offers your partner a bit of a break if he/she needs one!

Personally, I did choose to have a doula during my birth experience. Now, in my case, I asked one of my good friends (and co-workers) to help support me during my labor (THANKS NICOLE!!!). My husband was wary at first about having someone extra in the room, but after our experience, he will admit HANDS DOWN it was a great decision.

Nicole was not only helpful with labor support for me, but provided emotional support for my husband, and honestly I truly believe she made a HUGE difference!

So now you know, doula vs. midwife: two totally different people!

I hope you’ve learned some valuable info from this post if you were unsure about the difference between midwives and doulas! As you can see, both have powerful roles in caring for women, but their responsibilities differ.

If you take anything at all away from this post, one thing to remember is that midwives are MEDICAL, doulas are not. With that said, however you go about choosing your birthday team, know that you’re already one step ahead of the game because you’ve learned about some important team member roles.

As I always say, being educated and informed is the best thing you can do for yourself when deciding how you want your birth experience to go!

Did you use a doula or midwifery care during your pregnancy? I want to know, leave me a comment!

Happy Laboring! 🙂

Related Reading: Postpartum Chills and How to Deal with Them

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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