Midwives, Doulas, and Obstetricians: What are the Differences?
December 28, 2020When creating your birth plan, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing who will play the biggest role in delivering your baby. While the majority of women choose to use an obstetrician, midwives and doulas are becoming increasingly popular choices. Some women opt for a hybrid plan that incorporates more than one of these childbirth professionals. The decision is very personal for each expecting mother and should not be taken lightly. Below we’ll explore the roles of obstetricians, midwives, and doulas to help you make an informed decision.
Obstetricians (OBs for short) are medical doctors who have years of education and training in the fields of pregnancy and childbirth. While some family medical doctors can also provide prenatal care and deliver babies, OBs specialize in this field. OBs can prescribe medications and conduct routine lab tests and ultrasounds to help monitor your pregnancy and your baby’s health and development. OBs can deliver your baby in a hospital setting and manage your care with a team of nurses, other doctors, and sometimes midwives1 (more about them later).
If you need help finding an OB, start by requesting a list of providers from your insurance plan. You can probably access this list online or call a representative from your insurance company and request the list by email. If you do not have insurance, you can check to see if you qualify for a government program through the Health Insurance Marketplace. You also may be able to access free or low-cost prenatal care from a Planned Parenthood facility in your area.2-3
Midwives are not medical doctors, but they are skilled professionals who must complete a thorough education and training program to practice their profession. Most midwives begin their careers with a registered nursing (RN) credential and then get a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a midwifery program.4
Aside from having different credentials from those of a medical doctor, midwives differ from OBs in how they treat patients. Midwives take a more nurturing and emotionally supportive approach to treating their patients, focusing on the mother’s wellness and comfort in all aspects of her care, including social and mental. Midwives also help communicate with family members or birth partners and provide support throughout the entire labor and delivery journey, not just the birth.1
To find a midwife, you can check with your insurance provider to see if it covers midwifery services (many do, but some do not). You also can conduct an Internet search for either a certified nurse midwife (trained in nursing and midwifery), a certified midwife (has similar training but is not required to have a nursing degree), or a certified professional midwife (a skilled independent professional trained in many different settings). You can also check with the North American Registry of Midwives or the American College of Nurse-Midwives.1
Doulas are similar to midwives in their focus on the comfort of the mother. However, doulas also play a big role in communicating between the mother and the other members of her birth team (doctors, nurses, birth partner, and family.) Doulas can help a mother find the most effective positions and breathing patterns, look for ways to make her comfortable, inform her and her support group of different options, help her make decisions, and involve the mother’s partner or support team at whatever levels they are comfortable with.1
Doulas will also continue to support a new mother after she gives birth. DONA International, the world’s largest doula certifying agency, describes the role of a doula as similar to a travel guide in a foreign country. For a new mother who is giving birth for the first time, a doula may offer an extra layer of comfort and guidance.5 For a mother who has given birth multiple times, a doula can help ensure that each experience is as comfortable as possible.
Deciding Which Option Works Best for You
Some expecting moms feel most comfortable going the traditional route with an OB in the hospital. Other moms decide on a home birth with a doula but have an OB ready as a backup. Whatever you decide, just make sure it feels right for you. It’s best to do your research well in advance and begin forming your birth plan by the second trimester. It’s recommended that you put your birth plan in writing, sometime between the 32nd and 36th week of pregnancy. That way, even if there are some unexpected turns or surprises, you’ll have a document that clearly states your preferences. You can send copies to your doctor, midwife, doula, family members, and birth partner, so everyone is on the same page.
No matter what type of birth professional you work with, make sure they hold all the appropriate and required credentials, and are a good fit for your needs.
Prenate® Vitamin Family
This post is sponsored by the Prenate® Vitamin Family, a line of prescription prenatal supplements designed to enhance preconception, prenatal, and postpartum nutrition in women. Talk with your doctor about how taking a daily prescription prenatal or postnatal vitamin could help support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum wellness.