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What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?

 In Ask an Expert, Midwifery, Pulse Blog

How are a midwife and doula different?

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Prior to attending nursing school, I volunteered as a doula supporting young women through birth at a hospital in Berkley, California. For some women, a doula can be a great complement to her birth team.

The difference between a midwife and a doula comes down to training. The midwifery team at Vancouver Clinic is comprised entirely of certified nurse midwives (CNMs). This means that we are registered nurses who went on to earn a master’s degree in nurse midwifery from an accredited nurse midwifery program. We also passed a national certification examination from the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

As CNMs, we are trained to care for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. We also provide general well-woman care to women of all ages—teens to postmenopausal individuals. We deliver babies, write prescriptions, and provide research-based medical advice. Learn more about CNM training.

The word “doula” comes from the Greek word for “female caregiver.” A doula is a woman who has been specifically trained to provide nonmedical support to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. By developing a trusting relationship with a woman and her family, she can decrease stress and uncertainty during childbirth, provide education and physical support, and advocate for a woman during labor.

Studies suggest that having a doula present during childbirth decreases the risk of having an epidural or C-section. Some women choose to work with a doula because they want continuous, one-on-one support during labor. A doula commits to one woman, while a midwife may be responsible for multiple patients. A doula does not replace a midwife, but compliments her team of care providers.

Hiring a doula is a personal and financial decision. Women can have an empowering birth experience with or without one. Nurse midwives are experts at helping women make their birth experience what they want it to be, whether it means delivering in water or getting an epidural. We value giving women judgement-free birthing options—this extends to working alongside a doula!

—Kate Fields, CNM

Kate Fields is a certified nurse midwife at Vancouver Clinic. She helps guide and support women and families through pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Her goal is to empower women to make choices that are right for them.

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