Doulas and midwives are not the same. Both are birth professionals who sometimes work with the same clients, but there are significant differences. The fundamental distinction between the two is that a midwife is medically trained and a doula is not.
A midwife has as her primary concern the physical health of mother and baby. That is not to say that midwives are not empathic, and in fact they do offer significant support for your emotional state as well, but their primary concern is the physical wellbeing of mother/baby. By the way, a similar statement could be made about OB/GYNs and L&D nurses: they often are very caring and nurturing people, and of course those qualities come across in their work, but their primary professional concern is the physical health of their patients.
Alternatively, my primary concern as your doula is your emotional and spiritual health. That is not to say that I do not know a lot about the physical process of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. I do. But my focus is on how to help you approach this process with the kind of one-on-one emotional, spiritual, physical and informational support that a doula is trained to provide.
To be totally clear, while I do offer physical comfort measures during labor (see “What does a doula do?“in my FAQ), I do not do anything medical. That means no
- vaginal checks
- blood pressure checks
- fetal heart tones
- assessing the progress of labor
- prescribing anything
You should always hear any suggestions I make with the caveat to check with your medical care provider first.
Ideally, a doula and a woman’s other care providers (be they midwife, OB/GYN, or L&D nurse) work together as a team in order to offer the most complete support to their clients.