Every new mom needs a helping hand. Fortunately, there are two types of experts that can help an expectant mom make the transition from pregnancy to motherhood: doulas and midwives.

While most people think they have similar functions, doulas and midwives actually have different training, duties, and certifications. Read on to learn what the major differences are between the two.

What Does a Doula Do?

Think of a doula as an expecting mother’s BFF. The word doula is actually Greek for woman’s servant. Your bond develops long before the due date, as you both plan how you’d like the birthing process to go, and learn the answers to the many questions you likely have. 

There are two types of doulas: birth and postpartum. The main job of the birth doula (or labor doula) is to be by your side offering nonmedical techniques during labor, such as breathing, massage, and helping you move into different body positions. They can also provide emotional support and act as an advocate on your behalf. No matter what type of birth you have, a doula will be there to help you feel safe and empowered. A doula will support you in your decision to use medications or have a natural birth. In the event of an unplanned cesarean, a doula can help comfort you and give you extra attention to help alleviate fears and anxieties.

A doula can be a helpful part of your birthing team. According to the American Pregnancy Association, many mothers reported the need for less medical intervention when using a doula. However, it’s important to note that a doula is not a substitute for a doctor or midwife since they do not have the same in-depth medical training.

After birth, postpartum doulas help a new mother as she recovers from the birthing process. This includes caring for the infant and guiding a mother through the breast-feeding process.

Doulas can also play an important role in your home life, especially if there are older siblings in the home.


All doulas must go through a certification process, which includes didactic training and assisting during live births. Their certification requirements vary by state. Formal training can be obtained through Doulas of North America or Childbirth International

A mother’s friend, who is not certified, can also use the title of doula, but their duties are cause for controversy within the medical community. Untrained doulas should not be part of any medical aspects of the birthing process.

What Does a Midwife Do?

A midwife is a trained medical professional, and can be a woman or man. They play a key role during the birthing process. Certified nurse-midwives can do many of the same things as doctors, meaning they can perform gynecological exams, provide prenatal care, administer pain medications, give labor-inducing drugs, monitor the fetus using electronic equipment, give an epidural, and perform an episiotomy and stitch tears.

Midwife care centers focus on promoting natural birth, detecting complications, and using emergency measures when needed. A credentialed midwife is authorized to work in any setting, including health clinics, hospitals, or the home.


Like doulas, laws regarding what a midwife can do vary by state. According to the International Confederation of Midwives, a midwife must be registered or licensed by a program that is recognized in the country they practice in. All midwives must undergo specific education, training, and supervised clinical experience, and complete the certification requirements set forth by the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council.

In the United States, they are certified through the North American Registry of Midwives and the American Midwifery Certification Board. Many midwives in the United States are also registered nurses. They are called Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) and have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution as well as a certification from the American College of Nurse Midwives.

What Qualities Should I Look For?

The most important aspect of a midwife or doula is how they interact with the expectant mother. Find someone who advocates strongly for you, and who respects your opinions and viewpoints on pregnancy and the birthing process. This is key when you are forming a bond.

Experience is yet another important factor. Doulas or midwives with years of experience and births under their belts are usually the best. Getting a recommendation from a friend or family member who has used a midwife or doula can help you find a capable and experienced person.

Should you find a midwife or doula from an online service, ask for references from other mothers and do your own research. Also, ask to see the certificates they received at the end of their training.

Do I Have to Choose?

Since the two professions both offer benefits to expectant moms, you can have both a midwife and a doula to help you during the birthing process.

If you’re having a home birth, you’ll want to at least have a midwife, as their medical training and expertise is crucial, should problems arise. Also, doulas can’t prescribe painkillers, nor order an epidural, so if you want to keep such options open, having a midwife there will give you more flexibility.

Speak with your delivery team, including your doctor, to see who would best fit your specific birthing needs.