doula vs midwife

When it comes to childbirth and women’s reproductive health, doulas and midwives are two distinct yet crucial professions. Both offer vital support, but the nature of their roles and services differs significantly. In this article, we explore the roles of doulas and midwives, their certifications, similarities, differences, and the instances where medical professionals like doctors become necessary.

What is a Doula?

A doula’s primary role is to provide unwavering support to expectant mothers before, during, and after childbirth. This support encompasses the physical, emotional, and informational aspects of the birthing process. Doulas work closely with expectant mothers to help them have a memorable and empowering childbirth experience. While they are commonly associated with providing support during labor, there are also doulas who specialize in antepartum (before birth) and postpartum care. Doulas often assist in the creation of birth plans, focusing on the mother’s individual needs and preferences.

A birth doula remains by the mother’s side during labor, offering relaxation and breathing technique support, comforting services such as massage, and assistance with labor positions. However, it’s essential to understand that doulas are not medically trained and cannot deliver babies. Moreover, they do not substitute the presence of the mother’s partner, but rather encourage their active participation.

What is a Midwife?

Midwives, on the other hand, are healthcare professionals trained to provide comprehensive care throughout the pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period. Depending on state regulations and the specific type of midwife, their services can encompass a wide range of medical care. Midwives may conduct gynecological examinations, offer birth control counseling, write prescriptions, provide labor and delivery care, perform fetal monitoring, and offer information about contraception. Their approach typically leans towards reducing unnecessary technological interventions, emphasizing that pregnancy and birth are natural life processes.

Unlike doulas, midwives are medically trained and qualified to deliver babies. Some midwives also have nursing backgrounds, expanding their capabilities to offer a variety of healthcare services to women.

Certifications for Doulas and Midwives

The certification and licensing requirements for doulas and midwives vary significantly.

For midwives, the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) serves as the national certifying body for certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) and certified midwives (CMs). Midwifery education programs are typically at the graduate level and may require a Bachelor’s Degree for entry. The educational prerequisites may differ based on the program, with some accepting applicants with non-nursing Bachelor’s degrees and others requiring a nursing background. It’s essential to note that legal recognition for CNMs and CMs varies among states, so the specific services they can offer depend on state regulations.

Doulas, on the other hand, do not necessarily have medical training or formal licensing requirements. However, many doulas choose to undergo training and certification through organizations that oversee doula training programs, such as DONA International™ and the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA).

Similarities and Differences Between Doulas and Midwives

While both doulas and midwives play crucial roles in the birthing process, they have distinct functions:


  • Both doulas and midwives provide valuable support to women during pregnancy and childbirth.


  • Midwives have medical training and can handle the delivery of a healthy baby.
  • Doulas focus on the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of the mother but lack medical training and cannot substitute for midwives or doctors.

Can You Use Both a Doula and a Midwife?

Many women choose to utilize the services of both a doula and a midwife, although it is not mandatory. The decision often depends on individual preferences and the level of support desired during pregnancy and childbirth.

When Should a Doctor Be Consulted?

Midwives are trained to recognize emergencies or situations that require medical care from a doctor. They excel in managing normal pregnancies but rely on obstetricians for high-risk pregnancies or scenarios requiring medical interventions. Obstetricians (ob-gyn physicians) possess the expertise to manage high-risk pregnancies, perform surgeries like C-sections when necessary, and handle complications that may threaten the mother or baby during childbirth.

The Costs of Doula and Midwife Services

The financial aspects of hiring a doula or a midwife can vary widely based on factors like location and specific services offered.

Doulas typically charge a flat fee for a package that includes prenatal visits, on-call support during pregnancy, assistance during labor and birth, and at least one postpartum visit. Costs can range from $1,000 or more in major cities to substantially less in other areas.

Midwives often have fees that cover prenatal visits, the birth itself, and postpartum visits. The average cost for midwifery services is approximately $2,000, but this can differ based on location, and some insurance policies may cover midwifery fees. Additionally, some midwives offer reduced fees, sliding scales, or payment plans to accommodate various financial situations.

Doula vs. Midwife Salary

Doulas are non-medical professionals who offer emotional and physical support to expectant mothers during labor and childbirth. While their primary focus is on the well-being of the mother, they may also provide assistance to partners and family members. Doulas typically charge an hourly fee for their services, and rates can vary widely based on location and experience. On average, a doula in the United States can earn between $800 to $2,500 per birth, depending on factors like the geographic area and the specific services they offer.

Midwives, on the other hand, are healthcare providers trained to provide medical care to pregnant women and guide them through childbirth. Their salaries are generally more substantial than those of doulas due to the extensive education and clinical experience required for the role. In the United States, the median annual salary for certified nurse midwives (CNMs) is around $110,930, while direct-entry midwives who may not have the same level of formal education or certification may earn less.

Doula vs. Midwife Australia

While the aforementioned financial aspects are somewhat general, it’s essential to note that these figures can vary significantly by country. In Australia, for instance, doulas and midwives have their own unique dynamics.

Doulas in Australia may charge around $1,000 to $2,500 for their services. The demand for doulas is growing, but it’s important to remember that the role of a doula is more focused on providing emotional support and comfort to mothers during labor and birth.

Midwives in Australia are generally healthcare professionals with significant education and training. They provide care throughout the entire pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period. In Australia, midwives who work in the public health system receive salaries commensurate with their experience and qualifications. For those working in private practice, income can vary based on the location and clientele.

Difference Between Doula, Midwife, and Doctor

The roles of doulas, midwives, and doctors in the childbirth process are distinct:

  1. Doula: Doulas offer non-medical support, including emotional encouragement and physical comfort measures. They do not perform medical procedures or make clinical decisions.
  2. Midwife: Midwives are healthcare professionals who provide medical care to pregnant women, offer guidance through childbirth, and can administer medical interventions when necessary.
  3. Doctor: Obstetricians or OB-GYNs are medical doctors who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. They have the highest level of medical training and can perform surgical procedures if complications arise.

Being a Doula vs. Midwife

Choosing between being a doula or a midwife often depends on an individual’s educational background, personal interests, and career goals.

Being a Doula: Doulas find fulfillment in providing emotional support and comfort during childbirth. It is a less formal role than that of a midwife, and they do not require the same extensive education or clinical experience. Doulas may prefer the flexibility of setting their own schedules and working independently.

Being a Midwife: Midwives seek a more in-depth involvement in pregnancy and childbirth. This role requires advanced education, certification, and often working within established healthcare systems. Midwives have a broader scope of practice and can provide a wider range of medical interventions.

Doula vs. Certified Nurse Midwife

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) represent a unique bridge between doulas and midwives. CNMs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have undergone extensive education and training in both nursing and midwifery. They can provide a balance of emotional support and medical care to expectant mothers. CNMs in the United States earn an average annual salary of around $110,930.

OB-GYN vs. Midwife vs. Doula

When considering who to involve in your childbirth experience, it’s important to understand the differences between OB-GYNs, midwives, and doulas:

  • OB-GYN: Obstetricians are medical doctors who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. They are trained to manage high-risk pregnancies and perform surgical procedures like cesarean sections. OB-GYNs typically have the highest level of medical training and intervention capabilities.
  • Midwife: Midwives are healthcare professionals with a focus on normal, low-risk pregnancies. They provide comprehensive care throughout pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period. Midwives are more likely to support natural childbirth and may recommend medical interventions when necessary.
  • Doula: Doulas offer non-medical emotional support and physical comfort measures during labor and childbirth. They do not provide medical care or make clinical decisions but focus on enhancing the emotional well-being of the mother.

In conclusion, the choice between a doula, midwife, CNM, or OB-GYN depends on individual preferences, the level of medical care needed, and the specific circumstances of the pregnancy. Each role serves a distinct purpose in the journey of childbirth, ensuring that mothers receive the appropriate care and support that aligns with their needs and wishes. Financial considerations are just one aspect of this decision, but they can play a significant role in choosing the right path for both expectant parents and those pursuing a career in birth support.

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