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What Is the Difference Between a Midwife and a Doula?

Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RF

Choosing a birthing team is a personal decision for every woman. You may prefer to be surrounded by a crowd of supporters, while other moms-to-be crave calm and quiet during labor and delivery. While both a midwife and a doula are trained to help you have the type of birth you want, they offer different services to the pregnant woman.

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A Midwife's Duties

A midwife is a medical professional who is able to deliver babies. Some midwives work in hospitals, while others work in birthing centers or deliver babies in home births. Typically, midwives focus on not only monitoring the health of the baby and mother, but also nurturing the mom and creating an intimate birthing experience instead of focusing strictly on delivery. Unlike a doctor, who comes and goes throughout labor, a midwife will usually stay with you throughout childbirth, if she's able. Midwives tend to advocate natural childbirth, according the American Pregnancy Association.

A Doula's Duties

Think of a doula as your personal advocate during labor. She's a non-medical professional who can act as a go-between for you, your partner and the medical staff. A doula can get answers to your questions, explain what's happening and help you make any necessary decisions, according to the doula certification and training group, DONA International. She will stay with you throughout labor, offering encouragement and helping you manage pain. Doulas may also make home visits postpartum to help you care for your newborn and adjust to your new life.

Training and Certification

Midwives and doulas differ in their training and certification. Certified nurse-midwives have completed nursing and midwife training and are licensed by the state, according to KidsHealth. Certified midwives and certified professional midwives must also pass certification testing, but not all states license them. A doula does not have to be certified, and some only have on-the-job training; being certified by an organization such as DONA, however, guarantees that a doula has undergone extensive training. Also, your insurance may cover a midwife's service but not a doula's. A doula typically charges several hundreds of dollars, with exact figures depending on your location.

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Making Choices

Talking to your doctor and partner can help you decide whether a midwife and/or doula is right for you. Your partner may prefer to be the one offering you support, or he might find it reassuring to have a trained professional on hand to assist. While a doula can work in tandem with an obstetrician, hiring a midwife can mean delivering at home or in a birthing center where emergency medical help isn't immediately available. You may opt to work with a midwife who delivers in a hospital so help is nearby. If you have had previous complications with pregnancies, are expecting multiples or have chronic health issues, KidsHealth advises against using a midwife as your primary medical caregiver during pregnancy and delivery.

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