Doulas vs. Midwives: How to Choose the Right Help for Your Needs
If you are pregnant, the thought of delivery can be a bit overwhelming. If it is your first baby, it can be the fear of the unknown. Second time moms often are trying to improve on their first birth experience which may have been disappointing or unsatisfactory. What kind of support would be best? A labor doula or a midwife?
The role of both the doula and the midwife is to support the laboring woman and her partner through the labor and delivery but their roles are a little different.
What is a doula?
A doula is a support person who provides on-going, continuous support from the start of active labor through delivery and until the mom is in her recovery room. She is a non-medical support person.
Her role is to lessen stress by providing emotional support and encouragement, explaining what is happening and how best to manage the contractions. She is trained in the process of labor and some physical ways to support it. Studies show that her presence in the labor room lessens the possibility of a Caesarean section, shortens the length of labor and reduces the need for medications and interference in the process with drugs such as Pitocin.
What is a midwife?
A midwife is involved in the medical aspect of birth. Midwives often work in conjunction with an obstetrician and provide prenatal care. She may provide some labor support and she may also deliver the baby in a hospital or home setting. Midwives do not do surgery so if the need for a Caesarean section arises the Obstetrician will be called to deliver the baby.
Midwives often stay with the laboring woman through much of her labor. When during the labor she arrives may vary depending on the practice and if she has other women she is supporting.
Which one do I need or do I need both?
If you have access to a midwife in the Obstetric practice you are using, it would be good to ask her how extensive her support will be in a hospital setting during your labor. Will she be there continually? Will she have other patients? Will she provide hands-on suggestions and encouragement for you during the entire length of labor?
She may provide all of your emotional and physical support but she may not. You can ask her if she thinks it would be good for you to have a doula as well. A midwife may be all that you need.
A doula can be especially helpful if you do not have a midwife and you are working with an Obstetrician. The doctor will not stay with you during your labor. He/she will literally arrive when you are ready to deliver.
Labor can take from start to finish 24 hrs. During that time you will labor alone with your partner with the nurses checking on your progress. The beauty of a labor support doula is she stays with you the entire time. She doesn’t change shifts as the nurses are likely to.
She is a calming presence who will help you to trust your body and work with what is happening. She may be all that you need.
Will the Labor support doula take the place of my partner?
A labor support doula will support both you and your partner. She will meet your needs and help him to be involved as much as he would like to be. Some partners want to be hands-on so they just need encouragement and suggestions on how to support you.
Other mates get “numb” in a hospital setting and feel overwhelmed by the whole process of giving birth. The doula will pick up where ever he would like her to. Having a doula also allows him to take a break, get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee – remember delivering a baby takes time!
Other benefits of having a labor support doula:
- She will help you have the birth you want. Do you want medication or do you want a non-medicated birth? She will help you to have the birth you want.
- She knows how things go in a hospital setting. Everyone’s goal is to have a healthy baby. How you achieve that can sometimes be different from the way the protocol of a hospital outlines. If there is a non-medical reason they want to speed up your delivery, the doula can help you ask the right questions so you may have some additional time to labor before interference.
- She doesn’t change shifts. You may love one of your nurses but chances are she will not be working the whole length of your labor. Your doula stays with your until you deliver and beyond.
- She will help your breastfeeding get off to a good start. Problems with breastfeeding often start right at delivery when things aren’t initiated with the baby as needed. She will help you avoid those things.
- She stays with you after delivery until you are comfortable in your recovery room. This allows the dad to follow the baby to where they will do the testing, and you will not be left alone.
- She comes back for a postpartum visit where she will go over the birth with you and help everyone feel good about the birth. We live with our birth memories for the rest of our lives.
About Susan Shepard
I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”