The Difference between a Doula and a Midwife
The conversation usually goes like this:
Me: “Hi! My name is Christina Bakanec and I am a professional birth doula.”
Person: “A birth do-what? Is that like a midwife?” (This is usually accompanied by an expression of bewilderment and unease. I can almost see the image they are conjuring up: ‘hippie’ woman, dreadlocks, smells funny, delivers baby in the woods...)
Me: “Not exactly...”
To be fair, it’s not anyone’s fault. I still remember the first time I heard of a doula. I had to ask Google for a definition! And now here I am, 5 years later, living and breathing the life of a doula. Doula: it’s a strange sounding word, and not one that the average person is familiar with. As a result, one of the most critical aspects of our jobs is to educate our communities about doulas: what they do, what they do NOT do, the benefits, and especially, why a pregnant woman might want one.
So, what is the difference between a doula and a midwife? They are, in fact, two completely different roles. The main difference is that a doula is strictly a non-medical support person. A midwife functions as your health care provider, with the necessary medical and emergency birth skills to be a proficient and effective primary birth attendant. If you hire a midwife as your care provider, they step into the role your doctor or Ob/Gyn would usually take, transferring care only if an emergent situation develops that would require the skills of an obstetric surgeon. Your midwife would see you regularly throughout your pregnancy, offering the same prenatal screenings and testings you would be offered at a doctor or Ob/Gyn office. Midwives are very well educated, with extensive practical experience as a part of their training. They are experts in normal birth so that they can identify when something is not normal with plenty of time to transport or transfer care if necessary. Statistically, hiring a midwife improves your chance of a non-interventive delivery drastically. The Midwifery Model of Care is a term often used to express how different their practice is from the typical medical practice. Prenatal appointments are 45 minutes to 1.5 hours in length, the birthing women is considered in charge, and respect and consideration for her are valued above all. There is much more involved in the Midwifery Model of Care - a quick Google search will help you find more information.
A doula is strictly non-medical. We wouldn’t even take your temperature if you asked us to. Our training is an infinitesimal fraction of the training and education of a midwife. We learn about normal birth, birth emergencies, interventions and more but our role is completely inactive when it comes to intervening in birth.
At this point, you may be wondering, “What good is a doula anyways?”
Don’t worry; we’re good! Just an entirely different kind of good than a midwife.
Your doula is a support person, hired by you, who answers only to you. She meets with you prenatally to listen to all your fears, questions, and concerns about pregnancy and birth. She provides you with resources you might need to work through those questions and concerns. Together, you discuss what you want your birth to look like - location, provider, environment, interventions or not, etc. She comes with a personalized tool-kit of support skills that differ for every client and every birth: physical support including massage, counter-pressure, hip squeezes, acupressure points. She is a fabulous help for your partner, helping and guiding him to support you. She’ll run for water, for ice, for food. She’ll give you hot packs or ice packs, warm compresses or cold compresses. Her tool kit also includes emotional support: a listening ear, an encouraging word, normalizing the process, a shoulder to cry on, lean on, or laugh on. Sometimes, she’s just a quiet, supporting presence. Someone who you KNOW has your back, no matter what. She also brings informational support: helping you ask the right questions to get the most information in a given situation. Helping you work through difficult decision making processes so that you know you made the right decision for you. She won’t speak for you or be your voice, but she will help you find your voice and know how to use it.
This is really just a tiny snapshot of what a doula does. The truth is, it’s different for every person. It is a specialized, personalized kind of support for one of the most intense and important experiences of your life - one that you will never forget. It’s a wonderful gift to give yourself, your partner, and your family. It’s worth every penny.
Have you looked into a doula for your birth?