Midwives and doulas: their relationship and roles when giving birth

July 14, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Pre-midwifery students holding newborns in Chiang Mai! Some women choose a midwife as an alternative to an obstetrician during pregnancy and childbirth. In addition, some women may also decide to have a doula involved during both the pregnancy and labor. If you are considering becoming a midwife, it is important to understand the role that both professionals have and how they can work together to help both mom and baby have a safe experience. 

The role of a midwife

A midwife is a trained healthcare professional who provides care from preconception through pregnancy and also during the post-partum period. For example, midwives may run prenatal tests and perform gynecological exams. They may also prescribe medication and supplements before conception or during pregnancy. Educating patients is also part of the job of a midwife, such as providing advice on staying healthy during pregnancy. Midwives also monitor both mom and baby during labor and assist with the birth.

How a doula fits in

A doula does not have the same training as a certified midwife. Although training may vary, doulas are not required to have a medical background. The role of a doula when a woman is giving birth is to provide physical and emotional support. Additionally, support before birth may include helping a woman develop a birth plan.

During childbirth, doulas often use various techniques and tools to help a woman manage stress and pain during labor. Techniques may include massage, deep breathing and visualization. Doulas may advise women on birthing positions and make suggestions during labor to facilitate the process.  Doulas are not only concerned with easing pain, but also help women and their partners stay calm and feel supported during labor.

Working together

The roles of a certified midwife and a doula during both pregnancy and childbirth are different. A midwife’s responsibility during childbirth is monitoring the health and safety of mom and baby, while a dula offers support during the process, but not medical care or interventions. Although their training and roles are different, midwives and doulas can work well together during labor and complement each other.

For instance, midwives may not always be focused on the emotional or physical comfort of a woman during labor. There may be times during the course of labor when a midwife’s attention needs to be focused on the mother’s or baby’s safety. During this time, a doula would continue to concentrate on the emotional and physical comfort of a woman. Feeling emotionally supported and dealing with pain can help the birthing process go smoother.

During some stages of labor, such as pushing, intense physical pain can make a woman feel out of control. If a woman is able to relax and find ways to deal with pain she may be more effective pushing, which can make childbirth go faster. A doula may also suggest positions, which facilitate the birth and make the process go more smoothly. With both a doula and midwife, a woman may continue to feel supported even during times when a midwife’s attention is more clinically focused.