The Difference Between Midwife And Doula Explained

Photo by Nick Van Snellenberg

Are you looking for a midwife or doula in Vancouver?

I’ve had many people ask me what the difference is between a midwife and a doula. Sometimes, the impression is that you need to choose either a midwife or a doula, or that you do not need a doula if you have a midwife. However, a midwife and doula have distinctly separate roles in their support of your birth.

When it comes to choosing a medical care provider for your pregnancy and birth here in Vancouver, you are able to choose between a midwife and doctor/OB. Both medical doctors and midwives are covered by MSP as maternal health care providers.  Doulas fill an additional role, and work as a complement to the care provided by your doctor or registered midwife.

In Canada, midwives are licensed medical professionals. The UBC Midwifery training program is a four year degree within the Faculty of Medicine.  Vancouver Midwives are able to attend both home births and hospital births, and are responsible for the health of you and your child prenatally and during childbirth.

Your Midwife will:

  • Run prenatal tests
  • Advise you on health during pregnancy, birth and postpartum
  • Prescribe maternal health related supplements or medications
  • Monitor you and baby during labour and birth
  • Perform physical examinations prenatally, during labour and postpartum
  • Consult with an obstetrician if a medical complication arises which is out of the midwifery scope of practice
  • Do their best to help you have a comfortable birth, but their primary responsibility will be their clinical tasks

For further information on the midwifery model of care / scope of practice in Vancouver, visit the College of Midwives of British Columbia.

Doulas, on the other hand, are not medical professionals. Doulas provide emotional and physical support during pregnancy and birth.

Your Doula will:

  • Establish a prenatal relationship with you
  • Help you articulate your vision for your birth
  • Direct you to resources in the community for pregnant women and families
  • Help keep you and your partner feel calm and supported during labour
  • Use tools and techniques to help you manage the intense physical sensations of labour and birth
  • Make suggestions regarding labouring and birthing postions depending on how your labour is progressing
  • Ensure you feel confident communicating your needs to your health care provider
  • Provide postpartum emotional support and help with breastfeeding initiation.
  • Direct you to your doctor or midwife for any medical questions.

Although doulas do not provide medical care, research shows they do increase your likelihood of avoiding unnecessary medical interventions such as instrumental delivery and cesarean birth.

Check out this article for an amazing explanation of the doula’s role: What do doulas REALLY do?

Do I need a midwife and a doula?

Doula support is an amazing complement to the care you will receive from your midwife.  There are many amazing midwives here in Vancouver, and they certainly provide great support for your birth. However, their ultimate responsibility is the health and safety of you and baby. They need to be present, alert and at the top of their game during really active birth and pushing.  Your doula will stay with typically join you earlier than your midwife, from as early as you would like her there until after the birth of your baby. We love being part of early labour onward. That continual support makes so much difference!

Also, here in Vancouver, midwives work in teams of 2-4 midwives. You will have a chance to meet all of the midwives on your team during your prenatal visits at least once, but there is no guarantee of which midwife will be on call when you begin your birth process. Most doulas are contracted as individuals, and a back-up is only called in in case of an emergency or overlap of births.

If you are looking for birth professionals who view pregnancy and birth as a normal, natural event, using both a midwife and a doula will give you the full spectrum of support and medical care you need.

Midwives and doulas work well together and respect each other’s roles in supporting your birth. However, they are different professions and you will need to select your midwife and doula separately.

Heres how to find your own midwife and doula in Vancouver:

To find a Vancouver Midwife:

Visit the BC Women’s Hospital & Providence Health Care Department of Midwifery webpage.

To find a Vancouver Doula:

See my previous post, “5 Tips for Selecting a Vancouver Doula”. Lots of great options for narrowing down your doula search in Vancouver, or contact me to set up a free consultation and interview: 604-700-4115

What does a doula REALLY do? Click here to find out!

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  5 comments for “The Difference Between Midwife And Doula Explained

  1. marissapeterson
    April 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! Could I quote you (and give credit of course) on my own blog?

  2. Bridgetsheeranmidwife
    October 31, 2012 at 3:51 am

    I am a midwife in Ireland. I am unhappy with your list of what a midwife does. I have had the pleasure of working with fantastic Doulas in West Cork  within my homebirth practice as an Independent midwife. I appreciate the role of the Doula enormously and feel that every midwife (not just the parents!) needs a Doula if the mother is considering hiring one. I notice you list of what a midwife does – to differentiate from a Doula’s role and I have to say that it is very bias and I do not like the list you have attributed to what  midwife does. This is extremely unhelpful and inaccurate.This will not be for the greater good and I suggest that the Doula list applies word for word to the midwife’s role with the ONE exception of the word Midwife in the referral for medical questions. To remove these from the midwife’s role is devaluing of the midwifery training and the complete role of the midwife up to 6 weeks post partum. In fact – why have a differentiation that clearly will misinform women about caregivers, first time mothers who may not have even heard of midwives before this pregnancy?

    • October 31, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Unfortunately, Here in Vancouver, this is very usually an accurate description :(

      Midwifery here has become government regulated, and traditional midwives / “independent” midwives are not allowed to call themselves midwives. I am very glad to hear you practice differently!

      Although, yes, some of what I describe as the doula’s role, some midwives will provide as well, it is not the basis or primary focus of their care. Although we have some amazing midwives and many of them do their best to provide both medical and non-medical support, here in Vancouver, their primary role is as a medical health professional.

      The goal of the article is to highlight the main differences in the roles of registered midwives and doulas here locally, and how those roles complement each other.

      However, I agree with your concern that this may be misleading for readers who do not know the specific circumstances of midwifery here in BC, Canada, so perhaps I should specify that this is a region-dependent description based on our regulations.

      Thanks for the feedback!

    • Leanne
      July 17, 2015 at 8:58 am

      It’s my experience as a user of midwives in Ontario, Canada and as a doula for the last 10 years that some midwives absolutely offer extensive hands-on physical support and emotional support to their clients, but that just as many that do, do not. There are no guarantees that a midwife is willing, interested or even able to offer this kind of support in labour. When the need to practice health care conflicts with a birthing person’s need for physical support, the health care needs must come first for the midwife – they must take period breaks to listen to fetal heart tones, take blood pressure and temps for the birthing person and record those metrics.

      It is for these reasons that birthing people wishing for a high degree of support in birth consider a doula in addition to a midiwfe.

      I don’t think anyone is even implying that only doulas provide adequate emotional and physical support, but it must be pointed out that not all midwives do provide those things adequately for every birthing person.

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