What is the Difference Between a Doula and a Midwife?


Many women who are considering a career as a doula also ponder about being a midwife.  After all, both jobs involve taking care of the mother during childbirth.  It's not surprising that women who care about both mother and newborn are drawn to both careers.

While there are similarities between a doula's job and a midwife's job, there are some very big differences which you must consider before deciding which training path to take.  The duties and responsibilities of a doula's job are very different from that of a midwife's job.  Additionally, the requirements for doula training and certification are different for thanks those for becoming a midwife.



How is a Doula's Job Different from a Midwife's Job?


On the surface level, both jobs appear similar.  Both doulas and midwives are trained professionals who support women during labor and childbirth to ensure a happy and healthy birthing process. Both jobs also involve providing education and ensuring the well-being of the mother and baby.

However, there are critical differences between a doula and a midwife.  Doulas provide emotional support by assuring and comforting the mother as well a physical support through massages.  Doulas also offer much more individualized care depending on the needs and wants of the mother, her partner, the newborn, and her siblings.  Additionally, doulas can provide evidence-based advice such as comfortable positions a mother can use during labor.  A big part of a doula's role is to attend the birth of the child, however, she is does not deliver the baby as part of her job.  She also cannot prescribe medication or conduct medical examinations.

On the other hand, midwives can physically perform the delivery of the baby.  They can also perform diagnostic procedures and examinations or order them to be done by a specialist.  In some cases, midwives can also prescribe medication.  In conclusion, midwives perform more of a medical role while doulas provide a more holistic role as a coach who provides physical and emotional support.



What is the Difference in Training to be a Doula vs. Training to be a Midwife?


Doulas can be either certified or uncertified in order to practice.  To become a certified doula, you must complete the curriculum and attend the workshops of a certification-granting organization such as DONA International, CAPPA, Birth Arts International, etc.  The path to become an uncertified doula is much more varied, but most uncertified doulas train through reading literature and attending childbirths.  Neither certified nor uncertified doulas require a college degree.

Midwives can come in three forms: direct entry midwives, certified professional midwives (CPM), certified nurse midwives (CNM):

  • A direct entry midwife does not require a college degree nor does she have to be a nurse.  Direct entry midwives train through apprenticeships and attending workshops.  
  • A certified professional midwife also does not need to be a nurse.  However, she is required to have significant birth experience and pass written exams.  
  • A certified nurse midwife must have a college degree and have received training in nursing and midwifery in a hospital setting.  She must pass multiple examinations and have significant experience with childbirth deliveries.



Doula Certification Requirements vs. Midwife Certification Requirements


As stated before, in order to be certified as a doula, you must enroll and complete a certification granting program.  The requirements needed for becoming a certified doula typically includes, attending childbirth and labor support workshops, as well as completing a breastfeeding class. Reading training manuals and doula literature selected from a reading list are also requirements to receive a certification.  Finally, most programs require you to attend at least 3 childbirths in order to gain experience in your supportive role as a doula.


Midwives can become a certified professional midwife or a certified nurse midwife:

  • Certified professional midwives are required to complete an educational curriculum which has been approved by the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council.  This will include taking midwife courses as well as participating in delivering babies mostly in non-hospital settings. Additionally, she must be registered with North American Registry of Midwives in order to practice as a certified professional midwife.  
  • A certified nurse midwife must have completed a university affiliated nurse/midwife program, which has been approved by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.  These programs involve taking multiple training courses as well as stringent exams.  You must also have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in the healthcare field, by the time you complete the program. You must be licensed as a nurse in order to practice at hospitals and birth centers.