Doula vs. midwife: definition, similarities and differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Both doulas and midwives play a vital role in assisting with pregnancy and the delivery of babies. Although there are many similarities between the two roles, there are some key differences. Understanding how their responsibilities differ can help you decide which career best suits you. In this article, we discuss the differences between a doula vs. a midwife, outline their responsibilities and explain how to pursue each of these careers.

Doula vs. midwife

The most significant difference between a doula vs. a midwife is that a doula provides expectant mothers with support to help them make decisions during and after pregnancy. In contrast, midwives offer medical advice, carry out examinations and assessments and help to deliver babies. Some people choose to have a doula, while others prefer a midwife. Some people may employ both. Other differences between the professions include:

  • Level of care: Doulas provide expectant mothers and their families with emotional and physical support during pregnancy and after childbirth, but they aren't trained to give medical advice. Midwives offer medical care, which involves taking bump measurements, performing internal examinations, ordering tests, delivering babies and other clinical responsibilities.

  • Level of support during labour: Doulas remain present from early labour until childbirth, while a midwife periodically assesses the progress of labour and can only stay once active labour begins.

  • Level of support during complications: If complications occur during pregnancy or labour, doulas can provide physical and emotional comfort while calmly explaining what's happening to provide better understanding. A midwife focuses on ensuring the mother and unborn baby are safe.

What is a doula?

A doula is a non-medical professional who emotionally supports expectant parents during pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum. They receive training in emotional and mental health to provide adequate support. Although doulas provide support during and after pregnancy, some choose to be present in specific stages. There are two types of doulas, which are:

Birth doulas

A birth doula assists women and their families physically and emotionally during pregnancy and birth. They're usually present during labour. They help women cope with labour and support their partners without trying to replace them.

Postpartum doulas

Postpartum doulas provide support for new mothers and their families. They help women recover from childbirth, provide information on feeding and caring for the baby and offer coping methods to parents. They might also help with household chores to make things easier for the family.

Responsibilities of doulas

Some of a doula's responsibilities include:

  • spending time with expectant mothers to get to know and understand them

  • providing practical and emotional support

  • informing expectant mothers about birth plans, such as caesarean, home or water births, and supporting their choice

  • answering questions or concerns about pregnancy

  • providing support to the partners and families of expectant mothers

  • providing support, encouragement and reassurance during labour

  • giving confidence to parents in their choices about birth plans and baby care

  • teaching new parents to feed and care for their babies

  • listening to new parents who need someone to express their worries to

What is a midwife?

A midwife is a medically qualified professional who supports pregnant women and helps deliver their babies at home, in a midwife-led unit or hospital. Midwives can provide support from early pregnancy until the baby is 28 days old. They help minimise the risk of birth complications by constantly observing the pregnant woman's blood pressure and the baby's heart rate. Midwives adhere to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) standards.

Responsibilities of midwives

The following are some of the responsibilities of a midwife:

  • providing antenatal care and parental classes

  • performing clinical examinations

  • educating people on pregnancy, including what to expect and how it can affect their lives

  • scheduling regular appointments to check the health of expectant mothers and the development of their babies

  • measuring pregnancy bumps

  • educating women on childbirth

  • teaching parents how to care for their baby

  • identifying high-risk pregnancies and providing management solutions

  • helping to create birth plans

  • ensuring women sufficiently dilate during childbirth

  • monitoring mothers' and babies' health during labour

  • keeping medical records of labour and birth

  • delivering babies safely

Related: 13 important nursing responsibilities (with definition)

How to become a doula

Although there's no national regulation for doulas and some practise without training, getting training can increase your chances of securing employment. Here are the steps to becoming a doula:

1. Get training

If you want to become a doula, the first step is training to understand the basics of the profession. There are numerous doula courses available, and you can find many of these through doula membership associations. Research these courses and enrol in one to improve your knowledge and develop your skills in caring for pregnant women and their families.

2. Improve your skills

There are some essential skills to develop if you want to become a doula. These skills can help you connect with your clients and offer support. Some important skills for a doula include communication, advocacy, patience, organisation, parenting knowledge and the ability to offer physical support.

3. Search for jobs

After completing your training, the next step is to search for doula jobs. Start by reaching out to your family and friends to see if they need one or know of any expectant mothers who do. Other ways you can search for jobs include:

Social media

Connect with other birth professionals on social media platforms. Comment on and share their posts so they notice you, and inquire if they know of any job opportunities. You can also connect with expectant mothers and offer your doula services to them. Consider joining an online community for birth support employees and introduce yourself. Get to know other members and ask if they can refer clients to you.

It's essential to have an online presence so that clients can get to know you, which could encourage them to hire you. Make posts on social platforms and answer questions accurately to establish yourself as an expert. This can attract potential clients.

Networking

Network with people who work with pregnant women, such as midwives, childbirth educators and other doulas. Let them know you're looking to get your first doula job and ask if they can recommend you to their clients. You can also search for doula events in your area and attend them to expand your network. Consider hosting these meetings yourself. You may not have many people at your first meeting, but with consistency and online networking, other birth assistants may learn of the events and attend them.

Related: The definitive networking tips for jobseekers

4. Join a membership association

Joining doula membership association can increase your chances of getting a job and allow you to network with other doulas. Options include the National Childbirth Trust, which requires you to complete a nine-month course that it developed in partnership with the University of Worcester before you can join. Another association is Doula UK. It requires members to complete an approved preparation course and have appropriate insurance before acceptance.

How to become a midwife

The following are steps to becoming a midwife:

1. Get a midwifery degree

The first step to becoming a midwife is completing a bachelor's degree in midwifery approved by the NMC. This degree takes a minimum of three years to complete and provides students with academic and clinical knowledge. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field and want to switch careers, consider a master's degree in midwifery. You can find a list of approved midwifery courses and universities on the NMC's website.

The entry requirements for a degree depend on the university. Some require five GCSEs at grade 9-4/C or above, including English and a science or social science subject. Alternatively, they may request two or three A-levels or equivalent qualifications.

Related: What A-levels do you need to be a midwife? (With FAQ)

2. Register as a midwife

After completing your degree, register as a midwife with the NMC. The registration process involves passing enhanced background checks. After successfully registering, you can start practising as a midwife. The council requires you to renew your registration every three years.

Related: How to become a midwife: steps and FAQ

3. Gain experience

The next step is to gain work experience to help you advance your career. You can start by visiting hospitals around your area and requesting to shadow a midwife at the maternal unit. Address your request to the head of midwifery services. When applying, make it clear that you want to start a career in midwifery and wish to gain some experience. They might offer you a work placement.

Related: How to write a midwifery personal statement

4. Improve your skills

Academic qualifications can increase your knowledge of midwifery and allow you to gain technical skills. You also require soft skills for a role in midwifery. Some soft skills to consider developing include interpersonal communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, empathy, active listening, counselling and observation.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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