Healthy Living

Midwife vs. Doula vs. OB-GYN: What’s the Difference?

Jan 12 2024

Midwife vs. doula vs. OB-GYN – you may already know that they all help care for women during pregnancies and births. But what exactly are their roles? And how are they different?

And for those currently pregnant or planning to be in the near future, you may be wondering what type of professionals you’ll need or want when it comes to your prenatal care and childbirth journey.

We are here to help by breaking down the role of these three positions.

First, what is a midwife?

A midwife is a medical professional who specializes not only in pregnancy but labor and delivery as well. They can work in many different locations: a birth center, a hospital setting or an office. They can also sometimes make house calls for patients.

Unlike an OB-GYN, midwives to do not attend medical school. But most do have medical experience, as a lot of them start out as registered nurses. From there, they go on to complete a midwifery degree program, pass a certification exam with the American Midwifery Certification Board and become certified nurse-midwives.

A certified midwife is someone who isn’t a registered nurse but has completed all the other steps in this process. They may not have a college education but learn through practice and working alongside another midwife. It is very important that all midwives meet the North American Registry of Midwives’ set of standards.

For women who do not have a high-risk pregnancy or complications in their labor and delivery, a midwife can delivery their baby. They can also prescribe pain medication and use technology, like fetal monitors, to keep track of mother’s health as well as the health of baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery. However, midwives cannot perform a C-section.

Second, what is a doula?

The role of a doula is to provide educational, emotional and physical support to expecting mothers, mothers who are in labor as well as mothers who have given birth recently. While they are not medical professionals, doulas are professionally trained individuals with the goal of advocating for mom’s needs and creating a positive, safe and encouraging birth experience for them.

If you decide to hire a doula, your relationship will start with them before your baby is due. You will create a birth plan with them and discuss any of your birth concerns or wants. Then, once you are in labor, your doula will be there with you. They will guide you through breathing techniques, laboring positions, massages and other relaxation techniques, and involve your birthing partner in these activities as well. And after the birth process, doulas are able to help new mothers bond with baby and navigate the first steps in the breastfeeding.

Because they are not medical professionals, doulas cannot provide medical care, including delivering a baby or performing a C-section.

Third, what is an OB-GYN?

An obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB-GYN, is a medical doctor who specializes in female reproductive health, which includes both pregnancy and delivering babies. They can see patients for routine visits, perform surgery, provide prenatal care and delivery of your baby vaginally as well as via C-section.

All OB-GYNs must attend medical school as well as at least three years of additional specialized training. They are also most equipped to manage high-risk pregnancy conditions, such as:

  • Complications with past pregnancies or births
  • Diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Twins or other multiples
  • Preeclampsia

Midwife and an OB-GYN: Which one should I choose? 

This is personal preference most of the time!

Some pregnant individuals feel midwives have a more gentle and natural approach to prenatal care and childbirth. However, others prefer OB-GYNs who went to medical school and can treat any possible pregnancy complications.

Still stumped? The following questions might help you decide.

Where do you want to have your baby? Midwives may work in hospitals, birthing centers and even in your home in certain states. OB-GYNs almost always deliver babies in hospitals.

What is your birth approach? OB-GYNs are generally working with multiple patients at once, so they can’t necessarily offer as much in the way of coaching or emotional support. Midwives tend to offer more hands-on support during labor. They also tend to favor more natural approaches to pain management.

Is your pregnancy a high-risk one? If so, an OB-GYN is almost always the best choice when it comes monitoring and managing your health condition.  

Do you plan on a C-section or vaginal delivery? Again, midwives can’t perform C-sections, though they can help a doctor perform one.

And what about a doula? Do I need one?

Again, this is your call, with no right or wrong answer.

Doulas mostly tend to help patients that are wanting a natural, unmedicated childbirth. So, if that is a goal of yours, it might be good to do some research on doulas in your area. However, doulas help mothers through medicated childbirth as well. So, if you feel you will want some extra support in your labor room aside from your labor partner, a doula might be a good fit for you as well.

So, midwife vs. doula vs. OB-GYN? We hope we helped answer all your questions!

Learn about the maternity care services we offer at Bon Secours.

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