The Difference Between A Doula And A Midwife

Written by: Janel Duffy
Posted: March 28, 2024

TL/DR: doulas and midwives are different in their scope of practice, but similar in their desire for pregnant and birthing moms to feel supported and empowered.

Long before I was even thinking about having babies, I can honestly say that I had no idea what a doula was, and my only knowledge of a midwife came from The Mindy Project–and they weren’t very well-liked. About a year before I got pregnant I met a doula randomly in a long line at Costco, and it was at that point a little seed was planted in my head that if I ever had a baby, I would consider using a doula. It wasn’t until I got pregnant and purchased Mama Natural’s pregnancy book, that I learned more about midwives and what they do for moms. If you would have asked me 5 years before I had my first baby to explain the difference between a doula and a midwife, my answer would have been disappointing at best.

And I don’t think my situation was unique. I don’t think most folks know the difference between the two professions. 

I was chatting with a younger friend who is expecting her first baby, and she asked me if there were any “must haves” that I suggested she get as she plans for her new baby. My answer to her was the same as it is for any pregnant mom who asks: “If you can swing it, get yourself a doula”. She replied with something along the lines of “oh we already have an OB that we like”. I asked her if she thought I was referring to a midwife, (she did), and then proceeded to give her a brief explanation of what a doula does.
Since expectant moms will find both doulas and midwives on the BeHerVillage registry, I wanted to clear up any confusion, so families can make the most informed choices on the most supportive providers.

To put it shortly, a doula and a midwife are two different types of providers. A midwife provides medical care and guidance during pregnancy, labor and birth, while a doula offers emotional and physical support but does not perform medical tasks.

I like to say that a midwife makes sure the baby arrives safely and the doula makes sure the mom feels empowered throughout the whole birth experience. It’s a quick explanation, and there is much more to each profession.


There are a few different types of midwives, each title representing a different method of training and education. Laws and regulations vary depending on the state as far as credentials needed to be a practicing midwife.

Certified Nurse Midwife

A registered nurse with additional training in midwifery, certified to provide a full range of primary healthcare services for women, from adolescence through menopause, including pregnancy and childbirth care.

Certified Professional Midwife

A midwife certified by the North American Registry of Midwives, specializing in out-of-hospital births, with training and expertise in managing healthy pregnancies and deliveries at home or in birthing centers.

Certified Midwife

A professional with a background in a health field other than nursing who has completed graduate-level midwifery education and is certified to provide similar services to those of a CNM, including pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum care, and gynecological care.

Direct Entry Midwife

A midwife who has entered the profession directly, without a nursing degree, often trained through self-study, apprenticeship, a midwifery school, or a college-based midwifery program, primarily focused on home births.


However, no matter the type of midwife, their goal is to provide care and attention for the pregnant mom and her partner that is focused on an empowering and supported birth experience. 

Midwives are trained to offer holistic prenatal care, a supportive labor and delivery environment, as well as a connected postpartum experience. While midwives are not able to perform any sort of emergency surgery like an obstetrician, they are skilled in preventing emergencies and are well-prepared to respond effectively should one occur. Midwives are trained in different pain management techniques and know how to guide women through their birth process, holding the belief that the body knows exactly what to do.
Depending on the specific midwife and their practice, they may attend births in hospitals, home births, or a combination of both.
The cost of a midwife will also depend on the specific midwife, their practice and whether or not they take insurance (and specifically, your insurance). If you’re considering a midwife, you can add yours to your BeHerVillage registry!

My experience with a midwife was empowering and supportive

I don’t have much to compare to, as I used a midwife for both of my pregnancies and births. I do know, however, that I was well cared for, my questions were always answered, and I always felt important and well-known by all of my midwives. 



A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother (and her partner) before, during, and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible. And when it comes to looking at the differences between a midwife and a doula, it’s important to distinguish that we’re talking about a birth doula. Check here if you want to learn about what a postpartum doula does, 


Many practicing doulas receive their training via a number of different accredited programs. Like midwifery, the regulations vary by state. When you’re considering a doula, their training is important, but one crucial aspect to look for is whether or not they’ve had extensive experience attending births like the one you’re planning on having. For instance, if you’re planning a scheduled cesarean, it might not be best to hire a doula who primarily attends home births, and vice versa. Some families don’t focus so much on credentialed training and instead are more concerned with experience and aligned values (ie religious or otherwise). It’s important to take time to consider what sort of training and qualifications you want your doula to have.


Scope of work

Doulas are not trained medical professionals– although there are probably plenty of doulas who have had to catch a baby or two in the instance of a super speedy birth and the midwife not getting there on time. Doulas are more for emotional support throughout pregnancy and birth. A doula can: help an expectant mom navigate her feelings around her pregnancy and concerns about birth, show a pregnant mom and her partner great positions for laboring, offer helpful suggestions about what to pack in her hospital bag and more! 
Doulas can be part of a team or work independently. Because of this, you’ll find a variety of different service offerings, so it’s important to interview potential doulas to see if what they provide each client matches up with what your desires are for your pregnancy and birth.



The cost of a doula varies state by state, and even county by county. Some doulas offer a sliding scale and some stick to higher prices. This article breaks down what you’re paying for when you hire a doula. It might feel extreme to hire a birth support person for $1,000 or more, but what a doula does goes far beyond just the hours they’re attending a birth. 


When I had my first baby, immediately after my daughter was in my arms I said “I don’t know how anybody does this without a doula”-- and I really meant it.

Having a doula to help navigate pregnancy (especially as a first time mom, but also great for any pregnancy) and be a present encouraging force for my birth was such a gift. My doula helped me create a birth plan, supported me through contractions, offered a calming presence, and helped my partner feel involved and informed. It’s why I always tell folks to get a doula whenever they tell me they’re pregnant.


The reason folks don’t know the difference between a midwife and a doula

It’s hard to say exactly why, but I have a few guesses. One guess is that folks don’t know exactly what either profession does, and since neither is currently mainstream, it’s easy to just lump them together as “peripheral birth workers”. Another guess is that a midwife is sometimes associated with home birth, as are doulas– and the idea of home birth can sometimes be deemed “scary”, “unsafe” or off-putting to those who haven’t learned how awesome it can be– so people don’t learn the difference.
As midwives and doulas become more commonplace for birth, even in hospitals, it’s likely that people will start to know the difference between the two professions even if they’re not in the pregnancy world at the time. And honestly, I’m excited about the idea of these professions being more mainstream– where talking about a doula doesn’t come with a brief intro, and when I share about the birth of my daughters I don’t have to reassure people that my midwives are actually trained professionals.


You can use a midwife without having a doula and you can have a doula without using a midwife


Like I mentioned before, birth doulas and midwives often go hand-in-hand. But they don’t always have to. There are plenty of people who use a midwife, either in a hospital setting, a birth center setting or at home– and do not use a doula. And there are plenty of folks who give birth with an OB and hire a doula to be at their birth.

With BeHerVillage, moms are able to find and fund one or the other – or BOTH by putting the providers they want onto their registry

Our registry makes it easy for expectant moms and families to find the exact providers they need and want for their ideal birth experience.

BeHerVillage is helping parents like you get the funds they need for the support they deserve! Are you having a baby and are looking for support? Create a registry for support today and get gifted funds directly into your bank account to pay for your support team. You deserve this.

Are you a birthworker who supports new moms? Use BeHerVillage to help your clients pay for your support. Create your free profile here and you can be the best baby shower gift a mom will ever get!
Category: Getting Ready For Your Baby
Tags: midwife , doula , birth , birth support


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