In these modern birthing times, there are many options for how and where to give birth, and the people who help us through the process. Of course the traditional way is with obstetricians and nurses in a hospital, but many women are making alternative birthing choices that satisfy the experience they want while welcoming their babies into the world. Therefore, there are a variety of birthing professionals who are trained to help new mothers with labor, delivery and postnatal care. Two of these categories are midwives and doulas. Today we’re examining the roles of each.
The Role of a Midwife
Midwives are birthing professionals who are trained in delivery of standard pregnancies when the mother and baby appear to have no abnormal health or high risk issues. There are three types of midwives: Certified Nurse Midwives are registered nurses who have passed an accredited program and exam to be certified as birthing professionals and are permitted to practice throughout the US. Certified Midwives are not nurses but have at least a bachelor’s degree and have also passed a program and exam. Certified Professional Midwives are not nurses but have practical childbirth experience and have passed a national exam. Not all 50 states recognize and allow Certified Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives to delivery babies.
Midwives typically help with hospital deliveries but may also work with patients at other birthing facilities or at-home deliveries. They are usually affiliated with an obstetrician or OBGYN practice so that they can consult or seek help should complications arise during a delivery. Midwives offer most of the same standard prenatal care as obstetricians including performing regular prenatal exams, advising on prenatal nutrition, ordering necessary tests, supporting mothers’ emotional needs, and making birthing recommendations. Expectant moms may choose a midwife because they are seeking more individualized attention during pregnancy and labor and delivery, and sometimes they are hoping for minimal medical intervention throughout their birthing process.
The Role of a Doula
A birthing doula is a support specialist and companion during labor and delivery. Doulas do not need formal medical training but are experienced in the medical aspects of labor and delivery. Most moms-to-be who plan to use a birthing doula begin the relationship several months before giving birth to get to know one another and so the mother can fully explain her birth plan. The doula then works with the mother throughout the childbirth process to help her achieve her wishes.
During labor, doulas are almost exclusively caring for the mother by suggesting pain solutions, relaxation techniques, labor positions and coping strategies. A doula may massage the patient, help partners participate in labor and provide emotional support for the family. While a doula is not certified to deliver babies in the US, she will usually stay with the mother as a doctor or midwife delivers the baby to help advocate for her desires. After childbirth, doulas often provide additional support for breastfeeding and basic childcare needs. Postpartum doulas are those that only focus on postnatal support once the baby arrives and they often help new families once they return home from the hospital.
Both midwives and doulas are excellent choices if you are considering birthing professionals other than your OB. In many cases, these birthing professionals can supplement your doctor’s care to help you achieve the birth outcome you envision.